The Person of Jesus Christ

God is focused on the world’s salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ. But gratitude for the conversation in which he involves us does not encompass the totality of theological inquiry about God-in-Trinity. Christology is concerned to understand the Person and Work of Christ so as to appreciate his role in salvation. This is clearly an important aspect of Christian theology, but when undertaken apart from the totality of the divine framework that makes sense of the world as God’s creation, Christ tends to become a moral example, and the Faith itself little more than ethics. But Christ does not simply point to the presence of God: he is the presence of God. He shows in his own life and death that it is possible for the world to embody the Divine without compromising its own created nature or the character of the Creator. He is our humanity made “in God’s image.”

The worthy intention of some who focus on Christology is to make Christ intelligible within the limited perspective of most contemporary philosophical horizons for which religious language is contentious. But the very form of theological language illustrates how ordinary human discourse simply runs out of power when dealing with talk about God. I affirmed this when talking previously of the Christian understanding of God as Trinitarian: “talk about God as Trinity is an example of where language comes to an end of its power.” The familiar final remark of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus makes the point, “What we cannot speak about we must consign to silence” (Wittgenstein, 1961, p. 151). It is not, however, that there is nothing beyond language but that what is beyond language cannot be expressed in language. There is no reason to believe that the ineffable is unreal, as Aquinas confirms.

At the heart of what we are all about as Christians is learning to love God—something that we know is extremely difficult to put into words. Yet even very influential theologians, such as Karl Barth and von Balthasar, begin their theologizing with what to my mind is a thin theological perspective generated by focusing on Jesus. It is understandable, of course, because it seems that contemporary fundamental suspicions about matters ontological suggest talk about God should be avoided in favor of the easier, apparently more brotherly perspective stimulated by focusing on Jesus. He is, as it were, the intelligible “God with us” and “God for us.”

Stanley Hauerwas, in my opinion, dilutes the truth inherent in Christian theology even more when he identifies the Church as a colony in an alien world (Hauerwas and Willimon, 1989). He points to what is essentially a Church-based ethics in the sense that the Church tells the story of God by making Christ’s living presence visible in the lives of faithful believers who, with Christ, seek to heal the world’s suffering. One hopes indeed that the lives of Christians within the community of faith will demonstrate what it means when the Church is referred to as “the Body of Christ,” but Hauerwas is mistaken when he claims that Christian ethics is for the Church and not the world. All humans are created in the image of God with the same opportunities and potential. In fact, Christian theology is concerned with universal truth, not simply with the relevance of faith to practical outcomes considered from within the Christian enclave.

However, for this basic reason, we as Christians need to avoid any limitation of perspective and base our understanding of what it means to give attention to God on God himself and his giving of himself to the world’s flourishing. We have to begin by entertaining the wholeness of the Godhead, the God-in-Trinity to whom Aquinas pointed; only thus will we be rooted in the truth. The Trinity is the model that Christians employ to explore what they mean by “the unity of God”: there is but one God, who is wholly himself, undivided, eternally present, and eternally attentive. He is the God who gives his whole attention to the flourishing of the world, for which he accepts responsibility and for which he is wholly response-able.

While keeping in mind God’s attentiveness to the needs of the world, let us now address the vital question of how difficult it is for us to learn to give attention.

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