Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Saved to care: Williams on salvation

"In Christian belief, the world exists because of a free act of generous love by the creator. God has made a world in which, by working with the limitations of a material order declared by God to be 'very good', humans may reflect the liberty and generosity of God. And our salvation is the restoration of a broken relationship with this whole created order, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the establishing by the power of his Spirit a community in which mutual service and attention are the basic elements through which the human world becomes transparent to its maker."

- Rowan Williams, Ethics, Economics and Global Justice

Of course, in this paragraph Williams is not aiming to be comprehensive and so does not here speak of the restored relationship with God in which salvation consists. Instead, he is discussing the relationship of humanity to the created order. Salvation is not simply becoming right with God, and not even just with one another. It is also the healing of our relationship with the whole community of creation in which we belong, a healing that consists of mutual service and attention. We are no longer self-absorbed, either as individuals or as the human race. Instead, we are turned inside out, in order that we might begin to mirror the loving care of God.

What does it mean for the world to become transparent to its maker? That God can finally see the world, or that we can ultimately see God through his restored creation? I assume the latter. That is, through communities of mutual service and attention, the love of God is manifest in the world.

However, such an understanding need not collapse the love of God into the loving service of the redeemed community. God's love is not exhausted by human expressions of it. Our careful attention will always be only a dim reflection of God's, more unlike than like. The sense in which humans reflect God's liberty and generosity is a properly human one. Our freedom and our capacity to give have good creaturely limits. These limits are not barriers to be overcome, but conditions of our existence to be explored and embraced.

7 comments:

Matthew Moffitt said...

Great quote.

gbroughto said...

Do you have any thoughts on how and where this (which I like, leftie-long-haired-hippie that I am) might intersect with the natural theology of a generation or two ago?

byron smith said...

Geoff, as a skin-head fascistic conservative, I have no idea. Even when I put on my lefty wig, I'm left scratching my faux-hirsute scalp. Which figures do you have in mind? Williams certainly takes many cues from Barth, but on natural theology, I haven't read enough of him to really know (or at least, I can't remember at the moment).

gbroughto said...

Brunner all-too-obviously comes to mind (since you mention Barth), but I was also thinking of that broader, more Catholic way of theologising (esp. when it caomes to creation and culture) that I'm only aware enough of to be mostly ignorant of its content and method.

Given your follicle and political proclivities, I now understand why you chose to go "way north" to study. But Canberra for me needs further explaining...

gbroughto said...

PS. I love how the timing of your response anticipates my post... I always knew you were way out in front, but I never realised it was that far

gbroughto said...

Ooop cancel that last comment. My eyes are working again now

meredith said...

Great quote - and an interesting thought on there being good, 'creaturely' limits to human love (not just limits due to our brokeness and sin). I wonder what the nature of those limits might be - are there limits to our love because we just don't have the same breadth of imagination as God?