On the eve of the Big Bang

Let me tell you how God redeemed the world. On the eve of the Big Bang, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were making a final run-through of their plans for the event. The Son was enthusiastic. "I think we’ve nailed it," he said to the Father. "I’m going to speak everything into being as your Word, and the Spirit here is going to breathe life into it. Then the two of us toss it back to you, and the cosmic party dances itself right into our Trinitarian lap. Elegant! Tov meod! Kala lian! Valde bona, and all that!"

"I have a problem, though," the Spirit says. "I’m the one respon­sible for the PR in all this, especially when it comes to the fail-safe gambit of Incarnation we’ve planned to cover both creation and re­demption. The Son really does make the world, right? But with the human race locked into time and space, it’s going to look as if we haven’t seriously tried to redeem the mess they’ve made until Jesus shows up late in history. The fact that we’ve had the Son in there tidying things up from the beginning is the last thing they’ll think of. How do I convince them the Incarnation isn’t just an after­thought?"

"Easy," says the Father. "Sure, it will look as if the Incarnation of my Word is simply a response to sin. But since all three of us will have been intimately present to everything from square one, all you have to do is give them images that show both creation and redemption going on full force from the start. From before the beginning, in fact, since we’re talking about it right now. What’s the problem with that?

"The problem," the Spirit explains, "is precisely with the images. However many mysterious, right-brain images of the Word’s age ­long presence I give them, they’re going to dream up transactional, left-brain ones and view him as something you inserted late in the day. Think of the damage they can do to your reputation as the Fa­ther who creates or even to the Son’s, as the one who redeems if they decide to think of you as the coach in a football game and the Son as the quarterback. Since you’re not going to reveal the Word’s Incar­nation until some two-thirds of history has gone by, how do I stop them from thinking you kept him in the locker room until the fourth quarter? We three may know he’s been in there right from the first possession, but no one else will. Even your biggest fans are go­ing to be hard put to sell that as brilliant management."

"Listen," the Father says. "I decide what’s brilliant management, not the fans. And as for my reputation, that’s your department, not mine. Besides, haven’t we talked about this practically forever? You know the drill. All through the process of revealing my Son in his­tory, you keep slipping them images of the hiddenness of his Incar­nation — of the mystery of the Word’s activity in the world even be­fore you arrange for him to be born of Mary. You’re going to hang images like the Paschal Lamb and the Rock in the Wilderness in their minds. After that, all you’ll have to do is get somebody like Paul to say that those things were presences of Christ before Christ — that the Lamb and the Rock are in fact my Incarnate Word antici­pating himself. What’s so hard about that?"

"Plenty," the Spirit answers. I’ve been doing simulations of hu­man thought in my mind. I think we’ve underestimated the effects of cooping people up in four dimensions. Look at it from my point of view. You plunk Jesus into the world at one spot in history, and then you expect me to convince them he’s present as your Word in all of history — before, during, and after Jesus?"

The Son interrupts him. "But I really am going to be present. Or, to put it their way, I really will have been all along. So I don’t see…"

The Spirit’s patience is wearing thin. "Give me a break! Since I’m the one who has to take everything that’s yours and get it across to them, I’m trying to solve your problems here too. Just think about what they’ll do with a Jesus who stays in history for only thirty-three years. Even if I get John to say that he’s the Word who made every­thing from the beginning, they’ll probably imagine him as a pot of holy soup we delivered too late for a good many of our customers. And after they’ve jumped to the conclusion that the Word wasn’t present to anyone who lived before Jesus, they’ll leap to the even more dreadful notion that nobody who lived after him can have his benefits until their assorted churches get him canned, marketed, and distributed to them."

The Father tries to break in. "But what about the Pentecost party we’ve planned to get the church going? Won’t that. . . ?"

"I’m sorry," the Spirit insists, "but I’m afraid Pentecost will be just one more thing for them to misread. Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally on board with both of you. But suppose I do give you the rushing mighty wind and the party hats made out of fire. Even sup­pose I throw in the mystery of speaking in different languages in or­der to get the universality of the Son’s work into the picture. They’re still going to think the church is in the world to sell clam chowder to customers who never had it before.

"I mean, think of the possibilities for ecclesiastical arrogance. Je­sus takes away the sins of the world, right? In him, everyone who ever lived gets free forgiveness for whatever went wrong in full, in advance, and all in one cosmic shot, no strings attached. I’m even going to get the church to include "one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins" in the Nicene Creed so they’ll see that the Baptism of Jesus himself does the whole job, even if no one else ever gets baptized. But do you know what they’re going to do with that? They’re going to paint themselves into a corner and say that the unbaptized go to hell or even that sins after Baptism make forgiveness flake off like a bad paint job, and that unless Christians go to confession for a sec­ond coat before they die, they’ll go to hell too. Oh, sure. We’ve also agreed on this Reformation business where I convince them that no­body has to do anything to be forgiven except trust the grace that Je­sus has already given everybody. But give them a hundred years after that and they’ll manage to turn faith itself into a requirement for grace: no faith, no forgiveness. Out the window again goes the free gift we’ve given them once and for all; and back in comes forgiveness as a deal that’s good only as long as they behave themselves."

"But why on earth," the Son wonders, "would they balk at get­ting something for nothing like that? Free grace and dying love isn’t enough for them? Would they rather we dealt with them on the ba­sis of accountability?"

The Spirit just keeps pressing his point. "I don’t understand it any better than you do; all I know is what my simulations tell me. Human beings aren’t afraid of accountability; they’re crazy about it. If they can’t get credit for themselves or dish out blame to others, they cry "Unfair!" That’s why I pleaded with you to let me include something less subtle in the revelation. Remember? I suggested an image of the Son hiding a box of chocolates in every person’s house: the gift would be there whether they know it or not, like it or not, be­lieve it or not. Maybe then they’d see that their faith doesn’t do any­thing to get them the chocolates of forgiveness; it simply enables them to enjoy what they already have. If they don’t trust the gift, of course, it won’t mean a thing to them. But the chocolates will always be there. I was even willing to make them miraculous, just to keep the element of mystery in the mix: no matter how many pieces any­one are, the box would always be full. I still think it would have been a good idea."

Finally, though, the Father has had enough. "I understand your difficulties," he says; "but after all, somebody’s got to be in charge here. In my mind, we’ve come up with a revelation that does the work of your chocolates without making us look like candy-push­ers. The Son and I have every confidence in you. If you want to in­spire the odd Christian apologist here or there to come up with im­ages like that, be our guest. As I said, it’s your department. But we’re coming down to the wire here, so let’s call this a wrap. We have a big day tomorrow."  –

Robert Capon,  "Where It All Began," prologue to: The Fingerprints of God; Tracking the Divine Suspect Through a History of Images

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