In this section the focus falls on cultivating a proper understanding of the God-world relation. In contemporary trinitarian theology this question looms large and lines of theological demarcation are often drawn rigidly over the issue of how we understand the relation of the being of the eternal God to the contingencies of our temporal existence in history.
Our understanding of the relationship between the being of God and history is founded in how we understand the relationship between the drama of divine-human interaction in history and the eternally dramatic life of the Triune God. The previous discussion of non-competitive divine transcendence informs this discussion because it is the non-competitive transcendence of the Triune God which provides the theological framework for a proper understand of the relation of that God to the created world. The central claim being advanced here is that the revelation of the Triune God in Christ and the Spirit in the historical economy of salvation is definitive of our understanding of both the God-world relation and how that relation is grounded in the eternal life of the Trinity.
What takes place in the economy of salvation is precisely a drama of divine-human interaction on the historical stage. There is no divine monologue, but rather a diverse symphony of multivalent voices come into conversation through the creative and redemptive action of the Triune God. As Hans Urs von Balthasar points out,
In the Christian drama God does not speak in monologues. He engages in conversation, shared speech. This shows once again that Christianity is not (like the Koran, for example) a ‘teaching’ that has fallen from heaven but an interaction, a kind of negotiation between two parties. . . . In contrast to the world, which is closed in on itself, does not want to listen to him and distorts all his words even as he utters them, God is the One who allows himself to be most profoundly affected by this partner so unfit for speech. . . . And only on the basis of the Cross is faith given to the disciples and all subsequent believers, rendering them capable of dialogue with God. (Theo-Drama II, 71-72)
The Christian understanding of God, as revealed in the history of Jesus Christ in Israel and the church is precisely a dramatic history. My fundamental contention here is that the clue to properly understanding the nature of the God-world relation is on the basis of the historical drama of divine-human conversation throughout the biblical history of Israel, Jesus, and the church. While this may seem a rather inoccuous claim, it is, in fact one that is quite radical, though of course it is not original to me. Perhaps the central problem with which Christian theology has always had to deal is the issue of how to articulate the mode in which God can “fittingly” interact with and be impacted by the world. I allude, here to the over-discussed issue of the “hellenization” of Christian theology and the long wrestling match of historical interpretations of Christianity’s various appropriations, domestications, or transformations (depending on your perspective) of the philosophical milieu of the ancient world.
The central concern seems always to be the right theological aim of ensuring that we do not think God in a mythological manner which traps God within the world process as merely a “being” alongside or in competition with other created beings. The wholly otherness of the Triune God has always been a central confession of the Christian faith. The Christian God is the God who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). However, it is this same God whom we confess to be present to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ precisely as the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The very body of the tortured, murdered Jew from Nazareth, for Christians is the “fullness of the Godhead” (Col. 2:9). As the patristic fathers agonized over, it is the impassible that suffers, it is the eternal who dies! This is the Christian revolution. All religions, all metaphysics, ancient and modern founder on this point. The confession that Jesus of Nazareth is identical with the one God is the rock which all either fall upon and are and broken, or which falls upon and crushes them (Matt. 21:44).
The Christian story of God is precisely that, a story, a narration, or most fully expressed, a drama. The biblical portrait of the Triune God is one of a God whe is engaged with the world through Word and Spirit. The God of Israel is the God who condescends, binding himself in covenant. The God of Jesus Christ is the God who descends into the very hell of human sinfulness and alienation for the sake of the return of all creatures to communion with God. In other words, the Triune God’s relation to the world a theo-dramaticrelation. Through Word and Spirit, the Triune God weaves created persons into the conversation that God is. The shape this takes in our history is the primal revelation of God in and as the tortured, murdered, and resurrected Christ. God enters into battle with the forces of wickedness and nothingness, investing his very being in that struggle for the life of the world. This is the message of the cross and the resurrection – that the Holy One, the Wholly Other One has indeed gone into the far country and that this going-forth is a real and definitive event in the Life of the eternal God. Or, more accurately, that this event of cross and resurrection is the eternal God precisely as God-for-us and God-with-us.
The question that presents itself to such a theo-dramatic understanding of the nature of God’s relationship to the world is whether or not such an understanding imprisons God within the world’s history. Does not a view such as this in which the very being of God is definitively, even constitutively manifested in the cross and resurrection of Christ inevitably make God a predicate of history? Does not such a “dramatic” understanding introduce strife and antagonism into the being of God in such a way that God is ultimately determined by sin? The answer to all such questions is an emphatic ‘No’.
As Balthasar saw with perhaps more clarity than anyone in recent theology, the radical kenosis of the Triune God in the death and resurrection of Christ and the Pentecostal dispersal of the Spirit does not imprison the Trinity in the world’s fate, but rather lifts the world up into the embrace of the immanent Triune Life. This is not a life that is other than, or beyond the very Life that is poured out from the side of Christ on the cross, or other than the life of the Spirit that dances in flaming tongues on the day of Pentecost. To ascribe to the eternal life of the immanent Trinity the very same prodigal love and kenotically gushing-forth life that is manifested in Christ and the Spirit is to affirm that the events of the resurrection and Pentecost are simply are who God is. These radical divine interruptions are the happening-in-time of the eternal Triune God. The drama of salvation history is definitive of the being of God precisely because the being of the Triune God is revealed in that history as the eternal and primal drama which enfolds and encompasses the drama of salvation.
However, does this not still introduce eternal strife into the being of God? Does not the assertion that the eternal life of the Triune God is the primal drama ultimately lead us to the conclusion that God must also include within himself some sort of primal conflict? For does not drama inherently imply the presence of conflict? My response to this question is simple. No. Drama does not require conflict. The presence of strife and antagonism within the drama of salvation is not the “presence” of something at all. Rather it is, as Augustine understood, the privation of the good. A story that requires conflict is not drama, but melodrama. Drama, theologically understood is the dynamic interplay of persons in communion. The essence of drama is dialogical interchange and interpersonal communion. Melodrama is overcome and transposed into the Triune Life as the primal drama absorbs and suffuses the lacuna of privation with the fullness of divine luminosity. Stated more simply, the resurrection is the overcoming of the melodrama of sin in the fullness of the eternal drama of the Triune Life.
All of this yields an understanding of the God-world relation that is at once cruciform, pentecostal, and theo-dramatic. God relates himself to the world through the kenosis of the cross and the plerosis of the resurrection and Pentecost. In the dramatic conversation of man’s ‘No’ and the Triune ‘Yes’ the primal drama of the Triune Life absorbs and enfolds the melodrama of the world’s rebellion. It is in the drama of death, resurrection, and Pentecost that we understand how the Triune God relates himself to the world. In his non-competitively transcendent lordship of the world, the Father draws all of creation, conformed to the image of his Son and transfigured in ardor of the Spirit into his eternal prodigal love. The ultimate answer that we can give to this question, in light of all that we have seen is that God is primally related to the world as Father.