Posted by: gcarkner | April 19, 2013

Transcendence and the Good…4

Tanscendence and the Good: Incarnation in the Church

There is a second aspect of incarnation, beyond Jesus’ particular bodily presence on earth; it is God the Son’s presence in his church. The church offers an historical and cultural presence, performance and embodiment of God’s goodness, socially locating divine goodness in a human community and narrative. Schwöbel (1992, p. 76) notes that divine goodness, a communion of love in itself, “finds its social form in the community of believers as the reconstituted form of life of created and redeemed sociality.”

D.W. Hardy (2001, p. 75) underlines that the task of the church is to face into “the irreducible density of the goodness that is God in human society” and elsewhere he (Hardy, 1996, p. 202) identifies “the existence of social being in humanity (the social transcendental), and the movement of social being through the social dynamic, as due to the presence of divine sociality and hence the trinitarian presence of God.”

Thereby, one’s own self-constitution is seen to involve the flourishing of the Other, the honouring of the Other, as well as receiving from the Other in mutuality, in a communion of love. The Other changes in significance: from a categorical threat (a potential dominator in the world of will to power and disciplinary practices) in Foucault’s ethics, to an esteemed opportunity of mutuality. This is a paradigm shift of relationship and identity (Romans 8).

The Other is highly valued as an end in herself. The self, in this case, discovers and constructs itself within a community that carries the good (which is deeply connected to transcendent goodness). This comes with a moral inclusiveness that involves the pursuit of a communion of love, rather than a radical autonomy.

However fragile or imperfect this incarnation of trinitarian goodness in Christian community, it is no less profound for the transformation of the self according to a strong transcendence of depth. The self becomes thicker. Human creatures are called upward morally and spiritually to image (spark imagination) and give witness to the dynamic being and activity of the triune God. This imaging transforms the moral vision of the self in a dynamic way, and enhances human possibilities for action towards the good of the Other and the good of society.

That most poignant image of hope, the Kingdom of God, expresses the relation of free divine love and loving human freedom together in depicting the ultimate purpose of God’s action as the perfected community of love with his creation. (Schwöbel, 1995, p. 80)

This entails a transcendent moral turn for the self, beyond fear of domination and mutual competition (agonisme) or pursuit of self-indulgence (an anti-humanist stance), to a pro-humanist, self-giving and receiving love and mutual support and good will.

The church at its best, as Christ’s representatives (incarnation) on earth, produces people on a quest for goodness of this quality, and seek to mediate this transcendent goodness in society (D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God). This community still believes that God speaks and acts, that the triune God is present to the world in a profound and intimate sense. It believes that it is vital to explore a love relationship with this infinite, personal Good, vital to seek the divine personal Good and be sought by him. At its worst, unfortunately, the institutional church can obfuscate this goodness as well, reneging on its most fundamental mandate or calling. This is tragic and irresponsible.

We expose here the problematic of seeking the good or goodness apart from seeking God, the pursuit of the good while walking away from relationship to God–in the direction of Nihilism/absence (nothingness) or Egoism (forgetfulness that we are not God). It is self-defeating, working against human flourishing.

How would the moral sense of Reason–and of Society–have evolved without the martyrs of the faith? Indeed, how could this moral sense have escaped withering away, had it not constantly been watered by the feeder stream of power that issues from those who have forgotten themselves in God? The rope over the abyss is held taught by those who, faithful to a faith which is perpetual ultimate sacrifice, give it anchorage in Heaven. Those whose souls are married to God have been declared the salt of the earth–woe betide them, if the salt should lose its savour. (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings. p. 96)

This stance on transcendence and the human situated good transforms ethics, within the economy of human relations. It turns away from a contest mode of being within a general will to power (mutual manipulation), towards the economy of grace within a communion of agape. It is not the economy of a naked, free human will choosing to follow a moral law, worship a book, or choosing radical freedom dislocated from social embededness and history. The idea of a naked free will is an abstract myth which we call into question.

Raw self-construction/invention outside of community is under serious scrutiny these days. It begs the question of human givenness and of the rich discovery of self within community (social identity). Goodness is no mere achievement of the human will; it is truly a mysterious gift of God within community.  This stance explores how this goodness is empowered in the human theatre and human relationships, with hope of transformation, a redeemed sociality of being.

Ultimately it is God’s goodness that is the measure of all human attempts, human constructions of the good. This is a major gift to our humanity. His goodness is our final or ultimate aspiration, test of authenticity or marker. This should keep us humble in our approach; human standards are always insecure, transient, subject to will to power, tribalism, self-interest and conflicts of interpretation.

~Gord Carkner

See also Finite and Infinite Goods: a framework for ethics by Robert Merrihew Adams, OUP, 1999.

Practice Resurrection. by Eugene Peterson

The Ethics of Community by Frank G. Kilpatrick Blackwell, 2001.

New York CityManhattan South View from the Rockefeller Centre NYC


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