Tom Gilson

Growth in Being and In Power—In Jesus Christ

I've been reading David Bentley Hart's The Experience of God. I would recommend Hart to atheists the way I would recommend Hitchens to theists: both are (or were, sadly, in Hitchens' case) among the finest fitters of words in the contemporary literature concerning God. There is of course an enormous difference between the two authors, and thus in the way I would recommend them. They both know how to say things well, but Hart has the overwhelming advantage over Hitchens in saying good things.

This is not a review of Hart's book, however. It's just a reflection on the portion I'm reading, on God's essential being. In this section (around loc. 1701 on Kindle) he is discussing the relation of being and power: “in the rational creature, being's power unfolds itself more fully, for both good and ill, than in things lacking mind and reason.”

All that is, other than God, derives its being from God. All that has power (the ability to do anything whatsoever), derives its power from God. Hart discusses how being and power are essentially related: there is no being without power, and no power without being. God is perfect in both. Humans, created in his image, share God's being and power in ways nothing else can.

And I can't help wondering whether the process of growth in Christ is growth in being and power.

I have written elsewhere of the shrinking effects of sin. To separate oneself from God, in being and in act, is to disconnect oneself from real being and from real strength. This is not instrumental strength, as in the technology that Ray Ingles has been pressing upon us as if it were God's forgotten good for the world. This is intrinsic being and intrinsic goodness: sharing in the nature of God himself (2 Peter 1:3-4).

The same thought ties in with my recent and continuing experience of disability. If external, instrumental power and effectiveness were God's objective for each of us, then my life would be heading in the direction of failure; or maybe God would be the failure, as Ray seems to think. If on the other hand God's purpose were for us to grow into a greater participation in his being, sharing in his power, then this could be a time of great progress.

But what kind of power would that be, if not external or instrumental? I think it might be the power to be what we are. God is necessarily who and what he is. We are experientially divided. Paul wrote compellingly of this in Romans 7: we do what we do not want, and what we consider good, we do not do. To grow in Christ is to gain more and more ability to integrate our inner selves and our actions.

Other religions and philosophies teach something very much like that, and to that extent they teach rightly. But only to that extent, for they miss the necessary factor of being who we are in relation to the One who created us. They miss the centrality of Christ's work to reconcile us relationally to our God; for relationship is central to who we are. They miss the crucial work that God does in us—which we cannot do for ourselves, any more than a flower can make itself grow without light—to cause growth toward that which he intended us to be.

God “donates” his being to his creation, say the theologians of old. To accept Christ might be to accept the donation that we would otherwise reject.

That's one way of looking at it, at any rate. It's rather abstruse, perhaps even obtuse. Usually growth in Christ is spoken of much more practically: growth in wisdom, in holiness, in love, in self-control, in hope, in faith, and so on. Usually that kind of language is more helpful than “growth in being and power.” But this has given me an idea or two to gnaw on for a while. Feel free to chew on it with me.

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3 thoughts on “Growth in Being and In Power—In Jesus Christ

  1. And I can’t help wondering whether the process of growth in Christ is growth in being and power.

    Two things come to mind here in reflection on this. First is C.S Lewis’ thought that God’s plan for us is to shape us into the perfect beings he wants us to be. Or in his analogy likening God’s work in us to the renovation of a house it’s to completely reshape us so He can come and dwell there, too.

    The other is the understanding that, in terms of our sinfulness as we journey with God, don’t become less sinful. However, we do become less susceptible to the power of sin. Thus we grow as beings acceptable in his sight and powerful over those things that would separate us from Him.

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