14 August 2013

The God Who Risks?

The Discworld gods as they appear in The Last Hero, illustrated by Paul Kidby
John Sanders landed a great title for his book The God Who Risks (1998), and it still enjoys a wide readership today. But does his definition of “risk” line up with what Scripture and tradition say about what God is like? For Sanders, God risks because he waits to see how we will respond to him; in fact, God’s not quite sure how we’ll respond to him. And, he himself forbid, God never forces a response out of us. He hopes for the best possible outcome—for us to love him in return—but more often than not, he ends up hurt, frustrated, and even surprised. He is the God who risks.

Well, to the title’s credit, Scripture does portray a God who risks, but that risk doesn’t contradict what the church-reading-Scripture also says (in its first seven councils) about God’s sovereign providence (and note that I'm no fan of the determinism touted under the friendlier label of "meticulous providence," which makes God out to be little more than a master of puppets). How can a sovereign deity take real risks? God risks precisely because he exposed his majesty—through the incarnation—to shame. He didn’t have to (just like he didn’t have to create). No one forced his hand.

Instead, God the Son, who always shared in the mutually indwelling love of the Godhead, of his own free will, did not consider his royal status, which was his by right, something to be grasped tenaciously (Phil 2:6). Rather, he became a servant and pitched his tent among us (v. 7; see John 1:14), washing the very feet of those who called him, rightly, “Lord and Master” (John 13:1–20).

And this is risky, not because God didn’t know the outcome (his Son, after all, was chosen for this before the creation of the world, 1 Pet 1:20; see also Rev 13:8), but because relationships are by nature risky, even the ones God initiates. They always run the risk of having the mutual love that’s supposed to be at the center of them trampled on. The strange and wonderful thing is, God sent his Son to run the risk of being trampled on for us. Of course, God knew this would happen. Jesus knew as well (see John 13:31–35). He knew Peter would deny him (vv. 36–38), just as he knew Judas would betray him (vv. 21–30). But he still washed his disciples’ feet, risking his dignity and status before them (vv. 4–13), challenging them (and us) to do what he did (v. 14–17), to risk shame and disgrace for the cause of his coming kingdom. What does it look like for us today to do the same?


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