The God Who is Eucatastrophe

In a previous post I made the claim that it is Jenson who gives us the most radical version of a “Metaphysics of Exodus,” in his argument that we have no real knowledge of God apart from his identity for us as the God who, first, rescued Israel from her bondage in Egypt and, later, rescued the (divine) Israelite Jesus from his bondage in death. For Jenson, these events of deliverance are more than mere acts which God has done: as far as we are concerned, they are literally who God is. This means that, prior to his acts of deliverance, while God is keeping us in suspense, there is a sense in which God’s own identity for us is at risk:

within the story told by Israel’s Bible, the Exile, the Lord explicitly puts his self-identity at narrative risk. By the word of the exilic prophets, classically in Isaiah 40-45, JHWH argues his claim that “I am the one” by pointing to his word’s rule of history: he recounts his past promise-keeping, and then makes new promises and challenges all to see how he will keep these as well. Thus the argument binds JHWH’s claim to the contingencies of history: What if the new promises fail? The proposition one would expect to be established if and when they do not fail is that “JHWH is God.” But Isaiah alternates this conclusion with a sheer statement of the Lord’s self-identity: then all will see that “I am JHWH.” (The Triune God 65)

I do think Jenson overstates matters when he says that God’s invitation to his people to see how he will keep his promises begs the question of “What if the new promises fail?” (even if, historically, that question may indeed have been provoked). The possibility of an obedient faith, in other words, doesn’t possibilistically require an equally available but opposing opportunity on our part to doubt or suspect God’s promises. However, Jenson’s point that it is Yahweh himself who first established the criteria by which his own deity is to be judged, only then to go on and meet those criteria, seems valid and helpful enough, and fits well with how I’ve characterized Tolkien’s notion of eucatastrophe elsewhere as a kind of cosmic game of “peek-a-boo” that God plays with his creation. Yet Jenson puts the point even stronger when he applies the principle to the Crucifixion itself:

The crisis of the total biblical narrative is the Crucifixion. As the cry of dereliction laments, the one called “Father” here hands the one called “Son” over to oppositional and deadly creatures. Therewith it becomes problematic that anything specified by listing “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” can be one God and not rather a mutually betraying pantheon. If the phrase can still be the name of the one self-identical personal reality, his identity must be constituted precisely in the integration of this abandonment. The God of crucifixion and resurrection is one with himself in a moment of supreme dramatic self-transcendence or not at all.

I hope to comment in a later post on Jenson’s Hegelian-sounding rhetoric of divine “self-overcoming” in a future post (and why I think, on this point at least, he’s actually more Kantian than Hegelian). For the time being, what I want to draw attention to is how Jenson has effectively turned eucatastrophe from something that God happens to do into almost something that God is. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories” Tolkien argues that in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ the eucatastrophic structure of the ideal fairy-story has been given the reality of historical, created being itself. Jenson’s interpretation of the Gospels and of redemptive history in general would seem to take the argument one step further, raising eucatastrophe up to the level of the divine reality and identity itself. If God (as per Tolkien) gives creation history the literary structure of eucatastrophe, this is because in some sense God already is eucatastrophe himself. From literary reality to created reality to divine reality: it’s eucatastrophe as transcendental property of being. 

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