a preview of the kingdom

In The Triune Creator, Colin Gunton argues that ‘the death and resurrection of Jesus is the model for all providential action’ since it is what enables ‘the world to become itself by action within, and over against, its fallen structures’ (p 190). The kingdom established by Christ simply is the future of creation.

And yet we get previews of this ‘in-breaking’ kingdom throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. One of these previews especially grabs me —  Jesus’ encounter with the man possessed by a legion of demons. It’s reported in Luke 8.26-39 (and parallels).

Four points leap out at me:

  1. The ‘in-breaking’ kingdom confronts the active and threatening reality of evil. The demons have robbed this man of his humanity (v. 27), making him a danger to himself and others (v. 29). If we take God’s action in Jesus as a model for all his action, then we’ll have to own some form of what David Bentley Hart calls ‘provisional dualism’. Evil is evil. And God is opposed to it. We must not back down on this, e.g., by allowing evil to stand on the same footing as the unreservedly good works of God like creation and redemption.
  2. Jesus triumphs effortlessly over the evil that has enslaved the man. Indeed, the very possibility of the demons causing any destruction is contingent on his permission (v. 32). Consequently, however much we must acknowledge some form of provisional dualism, we can admit no ultimate dualism. In Christ, God triumphs over evil. Indisputably. Unreservedly.
  3. God’s intervention does not erase but restores this man’s humanity. The barely human figure who meets Jesus on the sea shore is transformed by this encounter, ultimately finding himself ‘at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind’ (v. 35). As we think of God’s all-powerful achievement in Christ, it’s all too easy to cancel out human dignity and responsibility. But we must strive uphold it.
  4. The man’s restored humanity is fulfilled in the worship of God through Christ. The formerly-possessed man is commissioned — ‘declare how much God has done for you’ — and he goes away declaring ‘how much Jesus had done for him’ (v. 35). The dignity and responsibility God providentially hands back to us in Jesus is not to be twisted and polluted again by our behaviour. It is to be realised in praise of our Triune God.

What better way to celebrate post no. 250!

3 comments

  1. Chris,

    I’m pretty sure I know what you mean, but exactly what ‘backing down’ on provisional dualism is is a little unclear. Is ‘allowing [evil] to stand on the same footing as the unreservedly good works of God like creation and redemption’ a case of not backing down on this point? Or will one correlate them if one backs down?

    1. Thanks Sam,

      I guess I have the Augustinian idea of evil as a bit of ‘comic contrast’ — maybe not good in itself, but if you back up and check out the whole picture then it contributes to the overall harmony.

      I hear something which veers in this direction in some of the ways various notable Reformed evangelicals speak of God ordaining terrible evils and suffering. Of course, he is sovereign — not only is there no ultimate dualism, he sometimes uses (‘permissively wills’ if you like) death and evil to achieve his purposes (e.g., judgement). But, biblically, I think these things are first of all enemies and only subsequently instruments — although, I’ve been wondering about the status of the law in Rom 5-8 lately where this seems reversed: it’s first God’s (good) instrument and only subsequently (as a result of sin) an enemy…

  2. Good stuff – here’s another spin on it. Matthew has arranged his early chapters to follow the annual feasts. Expelling the demons into the pigs is a “Day of Atonement.” The Last Supper also follows the pattern. Here, Judas is “expelled” (Notice that Jesus gave Him “pearls”, holy bread, but like a wild dog or pig Judas “returned to attack.” This pattern played out until the Jewish war, when Jews from all over the empire were trapped in Jerusalem. It was a Day of Atonement for Judah. The believers were the first goat, the unbelievers, as unclean, were the second. Judah was divided in two. That is the dualism of the Bible. Something is torn in two to make something new.

    “Weep not for me, weep for your children.”

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