The Essence of Christianity

Chapter 4: A Godless World

To the same degree that man experienced this twilight of the gods’ and forgot his supersensory home, so he came to feel at home on earth and made it more and more his home. In this way he acquired greater consciousness and alertness, although this growth was at the expense of paradise.

The earthly world became rather like a vacuum, an empty space within the all-encompassing divine presence. In the strict sense, the earth did not fall away entirely from this presence. But we must form a more living picture of God’s omnipresence, a concept which often remains relatively abstract and meaningless. We must expand our understanding to see how omnipresence can encompass gradations of ‘more’ or ‘less’. For example, God is present in the criminal, inasmuch as he sustains every man’s existence every minute, and inasmuch as he takes notice of the crime. But God is clearly ‘present’ in an act of goodness in a very different sense and to a much higher degree. Our prayers for the coming of his kingdom and for the doing of his will on earth would be meaningless if there were no variation in the degree of his presence. It is in this sense of a ‘diluted’ divine presence that the earth may be called a vacuum, a godless space. As far as man’s consciousness is concerned, God’s presence is then reduced almost beyond recognition, diluted to the point at which it can no longer be felt. In this vacuum man now develops more and more independence.

It is for this reason that so many horrors and abominations can take place on earth. And this is why God ‘allows’ it all. Without the serious possibility of error there can be no freedom; and in the long run, without freedom and independence there can be no real love. The fact that God remains silent, letting these things occur, is founded upon the very opposite of indifference and unconcern. It is rather the tragic reverse side of the most exalted divine love for man. In its inescapable necessity it cannot be altered even by God. It is to be sure, a love for man as he one day is to become. It is the love of God for the human being of tomorrow and beyond, a love which cannot spare us the necessity of passing through evil and death. God renounces the possibility of preventing evil, which he could do through his omnipotence. He allows evil to exist, and yet he comes to man’s assistance in another way: by sending the Christ.

Chapter 6: The Son of God and the Son of Man

Why is the Saviour called the ‘Son of God’? We must first realize that our concepts of the divine are somewhat inadequate. Thus the word ‘Son’ is itself a metaphor which we must first translate from the language of imagery into our present-day abstract thought.

God is on the one hand the totally self-sufficient, perfect being – ‘as your heavenly Father is perfect’. However, we must not jump to the conclusion that we can confine God in the prison of our own inadequate thought-forms. We must not rush in with our clever logic and conclude that this completeness precludes the possibility of God’s ‘becoming’. Regardless of theological and philosophical concepts, God is simply not the prisoner of his own completeness, which we conceive of as circumscribing and enclosing him. God’s nature consists not only in eternal rest, but also in a divine ‘greening’ and ‘growing’. God in the completeness of his eternal being is the ‘Father’. Yet we can also speak of another aspect of God which is equally justified and real: the God who is in the process of becoming, of growing forth into the future: the ‘Son’. Because of this quality of growing, the Son is a bearer of creative forces. As expressed by St John’s Gospel (1:3) and by the Epistles of St Paul, the Son is the mediator of the creation of the world.

It is this God who unites himself with mankind: the God whose own nature springs forth like a plant freeing itself from inert matter and developing through its stages of growth – a God with a future…

Chapter 7: The mystery of the powerless God

How is the intervention of providence on man’s behalf the entrance of the divine Son into the earthly world, compatible with the notion above that man’s world has in a sense been emptied and that this ‘vacuum’ furthers the development of man’s independence? Is not man’s germinating freedom invaded by this divine intervention? To answer this serious question properly, we must look at the unique way in which God’s entry into man’s world took place. The God who appeared on earth did not reveal himself in the fullness of his power. On the contrary, the divine sacrifice which inheres in the phenomenon of a God who allows events in a sense to take their course, culminates on the cross of Golgotha. This image has become so familiar to us that we can hardly understand how it once stirred the feelings of even the most pious in its puzzling and offensive appearancce: ‘unto the Jews a stumbling~block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.’ A crucified God – such a God is a powerless God. Let us emphasize the point once again: the very same impotence of God is seen in his silent countenancing of all earthly abominations, only here it is carried to the extreme. However, the point is to recognize this impotence for what it is: not God’s weakness, but self-limitation; a conscious restraint, a renunciation for the sake of man’s freedom.
NOTE: The above is just a small part of the book; a few paragraphs from the first chapters.

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