In previous discussions on a theology of apocalypse, the issue of nature and grace continued to come up as a crucial issue. It seems that the key question to those espousing an apocalyptic theology relates to what sort of doctrine of creation one would have to uphold to preserve a radically apocalyptic theology of discontinuity between nature and grace (which I think the New Testament requires). Do we have to posit a notion of sin that is so radical that creation essentially loses its status as creation and as such must be completely anihiliated by grace in order for redemption to take place? Are the options either the complete and total destruction of creation by grace on the one hand, or the analogia entis and natural theology on the other?
I suggest that there is a way forward if we rightly conceptualize the apocalyptic relationship between nature and grace as grounded in creation’s finitude rather than its fallenness. The Reformed notion of finitum non capax infiniti might be an important axiom for how we understand the relationship between nature and grace and the issue of analogy. Could it be that by virtue of it’s finitude, the entrance of the triune God’s infinite grace and love into creation in the story of Christ must always and only appear as an apocalypse? Certainly it is sin that renders this apocalypse violent, but could it not be the case that creation as finite will always stand in an apocalyptic relationship with the triune God? Could it be that we will never be seamlessly enfolded into the Trinitarian communion, instead being always erotically enraptured, ek-statically dislocated ever and again in an endless apocalypse of divine glory for all eternity? Perhaps the beatific vision, in this perspective, is not a final event of optical immediacy in which we finally see it “all” (as Dante does at the end of the Divine Comedy), but rather the beginning of the eternal, true apocalypse, which, purged of the violence of sin now becomes the endless rapture of having our visage constantly shattered, our consciousness infinitely exceeded by the boundless effulgence of the Trinitarian glory.
In this perspective, the apocalyptic character of divine action is not ultimately determined by the reality of sin. Sin is merely a passing moment within the eternal apocalypse that all creatures experience in being saved and brought into the life of God. God’s action toward creation is apocalyptic, not because of sin; sin is completely incidental to how God is God towards us. As David Bentley Hart points out, “God simply continues to give, freely, inexhaustibly, regardless of rejection. God gives and forgives; he fore-gives and gives again. There is no calculable economy in this Trinitarian discourse of love, to which creation is graciously admitted.” (The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 351) God’s action towards us is apocalyptic, not because of sin, but rather because of the radical difference between God and God’s creatures. Precisely because the Trinitarian discourse of love is incalculable, it will always be disruptive, invasive, dislocating, as it draws us ever deeper into the infinitely alien riches of divine splendor. In the effusion of God’s infinite beauty into finite creation, the occurrence of communion between the infinite and the finite cannot be anything other than an apocalypse, an apocalypse of divine radiance and luminosity which endlessly and eternally draws us ever further up and further into the inexhaustible depths of God’s Trinitarian plenitude.
God’s action is apocalyptic because the unveiling of an infinite, transcendental beauty, can always and only be entirely beyond what can be assimilated by a finite creature. This is precisely why the revelation of God as Jesus Christ is so enigmatic, so scandalous, such a stumbling block to our finite, created rationality. But this beyondness in which God is never apprehended is not an apophaticism, if anything it is some sort of super-kataphatism; we are not proceeding by the via negativa but rather by an overabundance of revelation. It is not that we cannot rightly speak of God, it is that we cannot speak enough of God with our created tongues. The event of Pentecost seems to be an apocalyptic event of precisely this sort.
What apocalyptic thinking does for us, then, is to reorient our notion of what it means share in the life of God as a creature. To share, as a finite creature, in the life of the infinite God is to be eternally disrupted, constantly dislocated, endlessly bewildered by “the beauty of the infinite.” Because we are finite, our experience of beatific participation in God cannot be anything other than this sort of apocalyptic experience. As seen in the resurrection, the work of God is, as Hart says “a transgression of the categories of truth governing the world, precisely because it is an aesthetic event, eyes and hands can tell it, time comprehends it, it has shape and quantity and splendor, it allows scrutiny and contemplation and astonishment, it intrudes and invites and seizes up with it strangeness and its beauty.” (The Beauty of the Infinite, 335) Thus, we must conceptualize God’s Trinitarian action in the world for our salvation as apocalyptic, not because of a theology of creation exhaustively immolated by sin, but rather because the infinitude of God’s Trinitarian being always exceeds the capacity of finite creatures to plumb its depths. It at once evokes and evades, invites and intrudes, reveals and veils. As such, our experience of participation God’s life is one of constant dislocation in our homecoming, an endlessly jarring, ever surprising existence of being changed from glory to glory. The beatific vision is eternally iconoclastic and eternally koinonial. This is the great mystery of God’s apocalypic salvation of all created reality.