December 20, 2009

Good as the privation of evil?

I've been focusing my reading on Pauline studies for the last year or so, and it's been a blast. One of the key issues that comes up again and again, in Paul's letters no less than in the vast literature they have spawned, is the meaning of righteousness, especially God's righteousness. So this has got me reflecting on what I think it is. I think, for many Christians, the answer would involve something revolving around God's holiness, understood as God's perfection and total absence of sin. It is something (akin to a pristine state, innocence) that God imparts to us as a gift. Now, I can't think of anything at all wrong with any of that (though I know some people would certainly quibble with it), but I also think it's woefully incomplete.

In Pauline studies, there is a big discussion of God's righteousness as understood objectively (a righteousness that God possesses and gives to believers) or subjectively (a quality or activity of God that brings about or entails or results in God's saving work). And while I think something of both positions carries valid and important truth, I think there is immense value in looking at God's righteousness subjectively, as something like God's faithfulness and his saving action. I think this helps us go beyond a perspective of good (held implicitly or explicitly) as that which is without evil (though that is a perfectly fine affirmation) to fill that most excellent category of God's righteousness with some amazing content: God's loving faithfulness, his saving grace, his patient purpose.

These few reflections certainly don't even begin to scratch the surface of the exegetical issues entailed in the discussion, but I hope they can be some valuable reflection on Christmas, and God's loving gift in sending his Son. For in Jesus God's righteousness is surely revealed.

1 comment:

Mike said...

your title is interesting...

There are many different senses involved in the word 'privation'. Immediately, however, (the otherwise obscure) 'privation' implies its metaphysical definition: the absence from an object of what ordinarily belongs to such objects. In other words, depriving one of rightful/natural ownership; and so here, in your title, 'good' has tended to deprive 'evil' -- which is to say, 'good' has been shooed away upstairs into ethereal/holy objectiveness.

Professor Roland Teske is attributed for his groundbreaking analysis in tracing the roots of Augustine's theology (in Confessions) to that of Plotinus; the connection (or conflation) influenced the otherwise un-Christian thought of their being a timeless, atemporal eternity. Therefore, this particular founding father anticipated the categorical, tidy definitions of 'good' and 'evil'...
How possibly can His own righteousness , indeed His right-standing, be immanent if it has no subjective legs to stand on? Yes, we surely cannot domesticate such a Creator-God, but that doesn’t mean that he is wholly out of the picture – Isaiah 66 cornerstones the both/and dimension of His public action and divine separateness.