Logia Profile for September: Existent Endurance, Vulnerability, and Future Joy

Dani Ross
Tuesday 14 September 2021

 

Endurance, perseverance, vulnerability. Such words are far from summarising the appetite of our modern era. The dominant anthem of our age extols the way of the ‘immediate’, the ‘now’ of instant gratification, and, preferably, at no personal cost. The Christian tradition has, however, contemplated a pilgrimage of life via a different way: a way of waiting. This waiting is, though, not a static stagnancy; an interval without movement. The faithful waiting of the Christian life should rather be distinguished as an active hope. Jürgen Moltmann clarified that “hastening” accompanies the wait:

We wait and hasten, we hope and endure, we pray and watch, we are both patient and curious. That makes the Christian life exciting and alive.[1]

For Moltmann, the Christian life encompassed both a patient and active anticipation of the future in the present. This concept is what theologians refer to as ‘proleptic eschatology’. Here, Christian theology posits a future certainty of the Divine purpose, plan, and promise of Shalom (abundant life[2]) that simultaneously propels the present whilst awaiting fulfilment. In other words, the vision of the future shapes the choices of the present and determines the content of the hastening.

Scripture attests such a structure to the life of faith. The Old Testament patriarch, Joseph, over a 20-year period, waited (and suffered) for the sure fulfilment of his divinely descended dream (Gen 37, 42). Joseph did not passively wait for his promised future, but he waited in active anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan revealed to him in his dream. Mary, theotokos, would wait over 30 years for the fulfilment of the promise announced to her (Lk 1:26-38), that her son, Jesus, would be a salvific balm for Israel. Mary though, knowing the promise of the future, did not succumb to lazy lingering, but surely hastened the day by teaching her son the content of his future ministry. Her Magnificat prophetically announced God’s impending action: the divine scattering of the proud, the bringing down of the powerful, the lifting of the lowly, and filling of the hungry (Lk 1:51-53). In the shadow of his mother’s waiting faithfulness, the yet-to-be realised promises conferred on Jesus would be subject to active hastening.

As a woman called to the task of theological education, I too have discovered such a pattern of active-waiting in the expression of my life. Like many women called to serve the Church and society through the twin imperatives of theological contemplation and public engagement, I have found myself in an uneasy wrestle between waiting and hastening. For over 20 years, alongside a career in the Law and in International Aid and Development, I also trained myself to be proficient biblically and theologically – this was my hastening towards serving the Church and society. Yet, for over 20 years I also endured, and at times, suffered, in the uncertain wait for the fruit of the labour; not always knowing the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’ of the walk I was on. The future remained as unseen potential. Now, as a lecturer in systematic theology, alongside continuing work for the alleviation of poverty, there is some realisation of that to which I have hastened. However, throughout my active-wait (that still continues), I have often needed the reminder of a verse from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews – “for the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). In this short phrase, the author connects Jesus’ anticipation of the future with a preceding endurance. The future was set before him. The joy was not the immediacy of the now, but rather the future vision of a secured truth sustaining his ‘now’. The immediacy for Jesus was the suffering of the cross. The joy of divine promise, whilst present as potentiality, would have to wait.

Hebrews 12:2 contains a nascent principle that is contrasted with our modern outlook. We live in a world that tends towards an aversion of the vicissitudes of life, preferring images of joy and flourishing through the filtered perfection of social media. Common truisms, both secular as well as Christian, also encourage us to hasten quickly to future joy, downplaying the value of waiting, endurance, or vulnerability. In my home country, Australia, a slang phrase – ‘she’ll be right’, is commonly used to glide over hardship, averting any hint of vulnerability. A similar aversion is found too among Christians. One is more likely to find an encouraging coffee-mug espousing – ‘they will soar on wings like eagles’ (Is 40:31) than the reminder to plod ‘through the darkest valley’ (Ps 23:4). Such truisms have correspondence with what Anglican theologian, Sarah Coakley, identifies as “repression of vulnerability.”[3] They place a higher value on restraining or avoiding fragility or endurance, hesitating at ascribing such aspects of human life with pivotal significance.

The Christian narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus, however, gives us theological pause to consider the interlaced importance of existent enduring and future joy for shaping human life. In theological discourse, however, the events of Christ’s passion are, to a degree, contemplated independently. Some scholars emphasise the Cross,[4] some Holy Saturday[5] while others highlight the Resurrection.[6] But perhaps these events may be more profitably interpreted as a whole; where Jesus’s passion is a union of equally contingent parts—Jesus went through (not around) the Friday of the Cross, through the silence of Saturday, and through to Sunday’s joy of resurrection. Whilst these events were distinct they should not be theologically dislocated. From the view of Christ prior to his crucifixion, Friday (enduring the cross) and Saturday (silence) were the sine qua non of Sunday’s potentiality (resurrection joy).

Such an understanding of the integral connection of endurance and future joy is also consistent with the reality of creaturely life. In contrast to divinity, temporal and finite creatures are subject to potentiality (a topic explored in my research regarding human well-being and triune ontology). Joy set before us is always subject to delay. For humans, there is an intervallic tension between the present ‘now’ and the future ‘not-yet’. Along this vein, Russian Orthodox theologian, Sergeĭ Bulgakov, argued, “creation is temporal, and the temporality of becoming is the very nature of creation.”[7] Human life is characterised by contingent ‘becoming’. Such is the nature of the human – we live in the interval between what is and what will be. This means that future possibility is inevitably infused with delay requiring endurance and vulnerability. This kind of temporal reality is in contradiction to the prevailing theme of Western life – that waiting, endurance or vulnerability is an interrupting hindrance merely to be overcome.

Interestingly, not only the passion events, but a theology of Christ’s being also allows us to consider further the union of both temporal delay with the hope of divine potentiality. The Christian doctrine, espoused at the Council of Chalcedon (451), regarding the union of humanity and divinity in Christ, provides a further insight; that in assuming a human nature, God, in Christ Jesus, underscores a connection between the normalcy of uncertain human potency with the certainty of divine life. In Christ’s life and being, therefore, lies a depth of meaning often missed; the integral union between endurance to realise the joy set before us with the vision of divinely secured joy itself. Coakley articulates a similar view. She says, “the hiatus of expectant waiting” or “vulnerability” may, through Christian reconceptualization, be viewed as “power-in-vulnerability”, the place of the “self’s transformation and expansion into God.”[8] Instead of uncritical acquiescence to a common societal pattern that considers endurance, waiting, or vulnerability as something merely to mitigate or avoid, Christian theology offers a reconfiguration. This reconfiguration regards vulnerable uncertainty, delay, and enduring towards potentiality as essential contours on the road towards the future. When set in the horizon of Christ’s example, a Christian theology of hope “does not give faith only wings, as we say: it gives faith also the power to stand firm and to endure to the end.”[9]

 

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992), 97.

[2] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Justice as a Condition of Authentic Liturgy,” Theology Today, vol.48. no. 1 (1991), 16.

[3] Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Blackwell: Oxford, 2002), chapter 1. Coakley’s concern is primarily in relation to the danger of the repression in Christian feminism of “all forms of ‘vulnerability’, and in a concomitant failure to confront issues of fragility, suffering or ‘self-emptying’ except in terms of victimology.” Coakley ultimately articulates a position where forms of ‘waiting’, ‘bewilderment and pain’ are, for the Christian, ‘transformative and empowering’, an issue, she says, “that Christian feminism ignores at its peril.” pp.33, 39.

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, trans. R.A. Wilson and John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1974).

[5] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory – Vol IV The Action, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994).

[6] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol.1, The Triune God (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[7] Sergeĭ Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 58.

[8] Coakley, Powers and Submissions, 36.

[9] Jurgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 7.

 

Dr Jacqueline Service

B.A. Intercultural Studies (Tabor); LLB (Hons, ANU); GDLP (NSW College of Law); MTh (Distinction, CSU); PhD (University Medal, CSU).

Lecturer in Systematic Theology | School of Theology |

Charles Sturt University (St Mark’s National Theological Centre)

15 Blackall St, Barton, ACT 2600. Australia.

jservice@csu.edu.au | www.stmarks.edu.au

 

Jacqueline is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Charles Sturt University (St Mark’s National Theological Centre), Australia. Her research focus is on Trinitarian Theology and Christian Metaphysics, Divine Ontology of Well-Being and Theology of Development and Social Justice. She is a Board Member of Micah Australia, a movement of Australian Christians advocating for political leaders to address poverty and injustice in our world.

 

Featured image by Nathan Dumlao

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