Friends know I don’t comment on politics often. The reason is simple. I have friends on both sides of the aisle, and I value their friendships. More to the point, politics seldom allows for quick and easy answers, the kind of thing you can say in a blog or on facebook. Hillary . . . good . . . Trump . . . bad. Or Trump good . . . Hillary . . . bad. It’s far more complex than people try to make it.
I ran across a statement recently from a Catholic thinker. Here’s what he said: “Politics participates in the modest dignity of the penultimate.”
Now that is quite a mouthful. I could think and write about that for hours.
Politics offers us only a limited good in this world. It can’t, it doesn’t participate in the ultimate good. The ultimate good is beyond the reach of any politician or political party. Ultimate dignity comes to human beings by nature—after all we are created in the divine image—and it comes through our knowledge of and participation in the life of God and the rule of God in this world. That’s why Christians pray daily, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So, for my Republican friends, no, the Trump presidency will not be the beginning of the messianic age.
And, for my Democratic friends, no, the Trump presidency will not be the end of the world.
More likely, over the next four to eight years, the government Donald Trump pulls together will offer America and our neighbors only modest dignity, a few, modest gains. Two steps forward, another step back. But that has been true of every political party, agenda and administration since the beginning of time. We should not expect more.
Consider Psalm 146. Read the entire thing but here’s a key verse.
Do not put your trust in princes,
In mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
On that very day their plans perish.
So in whom should we trust? Well, the psalmist goes on to say that we should trust in the LORD, the God of Jacob, who made heaven and earth, the sea and then filled them with life. He is the one who rescues the oppressed and feeds the hungry. He is the one who sets prisoners free and heals the blind.
Whatever good politics can do is not ultimate; it participates only in the modest dignity of the penultimate. Politics can’t create food or give me a happy home where I can enjoy it. It can and ought to regulate commerce. Politics can’t give a person a vocation that gives their life meaning and purpose. It can and ought to regulate some business. Politics can’t cause the right person to fall in love with you and live together until you’re both in your 90s. It can and ought to make marriage economically feasible. Ultimately, what makes for a good life is beyond the reach of Democrats, Republicans or Independents.
Here’s a good saying to remember during any troubling time: “In God will I put my trust.”
Make it your own.
In his book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospel (Baylor University Press, 2016) Richard Hays makes a compelling case that the four NT Gospels, taken together and individually, identify Jesus as the embodiment (incarnation) of the God of Israel. He reaches this conclusion after probing the Jewish and Old Testament roots of the Gospel stories.
Now this presents a challenge to a number of scholars who have assumed that Gospels like Mark and Luke offer a “low” Christology, that is, an image of Jesus as prophet and Messiah but not divine. He goes on to say that it may be time to retire terms like “high” and “low” Christology because they presuppose a developmental scheme, a movement from low to high or human to divine as if these categories can be easily distinguished. Scholars such as Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn and, more recently, Bart Ehrman have made the developmental case. The presupposition driving such analyses has been that the first Jewish followers of Jesus would have been prevented from associating the man Jesus with the God of Israel because of their monotheistic heritage. Once the Jesus movement drifted into Gentile territory where there were gods-a-plenty, such scruples could be easily compromised.
Hays is quick to say that bold, even audacious claims about Jesus’ linkage with the God of Israel do not preclude the Gospels’ portrayal of “human” Jesus, a Jesus who truly suffers and dies, a Jesus who hungers, thirsts, grows weary, like the rest of us. For the evangelists it was not an all or nothing proposition.
I’m sympathetic with Hays’ call to retire the terms. But I’m not sure what to put in their place. Is there a single term which can unite those claims that Jesus is human like the rest of us with Jesus is divine like the God of Israel? In private correspondence Prof. Hays writes that he likes the phrase used by Richard Bauckham “divine identity Christology.” But does this reflect sufficiently the full and true humanity of Jesus? I have also used that phrase because I find it useful.
In a sense that is what these discussions are about; how might we frame the Jesus-talk of the earliest Christians? Other than repeating and explaining what we sense they meant when they used titles and echoed Scriptural language and applied it to Jesus we are often in search for language which describes, portrays, and otherwise adequately reflects these convictions.
I have to confess I’m partial to the language of “low” and “high” Christology for a number of reasons. Despite the assumption of development from low to high culturally and chronologically with which the phrases are often laden, I think the terms can be useful if they are carefully nuanced. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a mug-carrying member of the Early High Christology Club. Still, I’d be interested to know if you think there is language out there which might help us have more fruitful discussions about early Christology.