Friday, October 26, 2007

Williams on celebrating creatureliness

"Arguably what is going on in the work of redemption is, as St Irenaeus first put it, the reversal of Adam’s mistake. Adam’s resentment at not being God is transfigured by Christ into the free acceptance of not being God. That’s what Philippians chapter 2 is all about. The one who is in the form of God delights to be no longer in the form of God but in the form of a slave, and in that slave form of humanity, joining in our unfreedom, our suffering, our tensions and our struggles, the finite created form of humanity is glorified from within. Adam resents not being God and so Satan has leverage upon him: ‘You shall be as gods,’ says Satan to Adam, knowing that the essence of our fallenness is resentment at being creatures (just as the essence of the fall of Satan himself, in church tradition, is the refusal to worship). So Jesus, in not clinging to the form of God but accepting the humility of the incarnation and the death of the cross, restores the glory of creatureliness. The incarnation affirms that creation is good, not that it is nice or beautiful, but that it is good because it is in this relationship of loving dependence on the self-giving of God. And the mystery that we seek to understand when we think about redemption is that restoring of the glory of creatureliness can only be done by one who isn’t simply a bit of creation – the Word in whom creation hangs together, in whom alone is that full freedom which can accept the otherness, the suffering, the death of the created order and fill it with life. ‘He who ascended, is it not he who also descended?’ (Eph 4:9)

"So we in Christ rejoice at not being God. We ought to give thanks daily to God that we are not God and that God is God; we give thanks to God for God’s great glory. And the secret is that only in that rejoicing that we are not God do we come to share the divine life in the way we are made to do – the paradox that only by our completely not wanting to be God can the divine life take root in us.

"Discipleship in the body of Christ is in one sense simply a matter of constantly battling to be a creature, battling against all those instincts in us which make us want to be God or make us want to be what we think God is. There, of course, is the catch. And that’s why discipleship challenges at every level those unrealities which distort humanity, which distort creatureliness. That’s why discipleship challenges those enterprises in our world and our culture which feed the illusion that actually we could be God if we tried hard enough.

"What are those things about? Well you many find them in the deep unease so many in our culture feel about ageing and dying. You find it in our denials of death. You find it in our passion for absolute security, our desire never to be at risk. You may find it in a defence programme, you may find it in the technological exploitation of the environment. At level after level, our temptation is to deny that we are finite. And when I read, as sadly I sometimes do in discussions of our environmental crisis, that we can be confident technology will find a way, my blood runs cold, because I hear in that the refusal of real creatureliness. ‘These limits are temporary, our skills will find a way, we shall at some point be able to get to the stage where we are safe’. And the gospel tells us you never on earth get to a place where you are safe; but you will get to a place where you are blissful and united with your Father in heaven. In the immortal words of C S Lewis, ‘he’s not a tame lion, you know’.

"The outworking then of created wisdom, created Sophia, is this joyful embrace of being created, of not being God, the acceptance that we shall die, that we are fragile, that we are fallible. And it is ‘here on this lowly ground’, in John Donne’s phrase, that we come into contact with the transfiguring, transformative life of the eternal God. ... [O]ur holiness is not the denial but the acceptance of being creatures."

- Rowan Williams, Creation, Creativity and Creatureliness:
the Wisdom of Finite Existence


Ben Myers said...

Ah, and this Picasso is one of my favourite paintings. I can never get enough of it!

byron smith said...

Yeah, it was so great to stumble across it in the flesh when I hadn't been expecting it.

Matheson said...

It's as though RW had been reading your blog ;)

byron smith said...

Spooky - how did he know...

Make sure you read the whole article, Matt, I was going to send it to you.

Macha said...

Wow, this thought is very nicely put forward. I enjoyed it very much.

byron smith said...

Phew - I thought I'd lost this article into the ether for a few minutes without getting a chance to download it. Instead, I think they've just moved some things round on the ABC's site (and given it a new look). Just in case it is ever relevant, here is the old link as I have updated the link in the post.