Is God an Object?

Is God an Object? February 8, 2018

Robert Jenson addresses this perennial question (Systematic Theology, 1.228-9) in a characteristically Jensonian fashion, by reminding us of the dynamics of discourse:

“In all true mutual discourse . . . each must be both subject for and object of the other. As I am present to address you, I am a subject and you are my object. But if this is not reciprocal, if I evade being your object and so frustrate your presence as subject, I enslave you.”

The question “Can God be our object?” is a way of asking “can he be in true and free converse with us?”

Jenson has earlier argued that objectivity is linked with embodiment. So the question, Can God be in true and free converse with us? is also the question “Does God have a body?”

Jenson notes that “An unexamined presupposition of God’s nonobjectivity or nonembodiment runs through much of the tradition. Thus, as systematic theology’s beginning, Origen taught that the mutual knowing of the Father and the Son was not personal interchange but sheer mental knowing. . . . And at a very distant and theologically very different time, God’s nonobjectivity was a methodological principle of Neo-Protestantism.”

If we presume that God is triune, however, then there is a subject-object dynamic within the life of God, and we know God by being placed in that triune fellowship, by becoming (in the Son) objects of the Father’s loving Word and (in the Son) subjects who address the Father in the Spirit.

As Jenson says “the discourse that is God’s life is not in fact another discourse than that between Jesus and his Father in their Spirit, in which we join. That God is an object and so a partner of true free interchange is a fact not only of our converse with him but of the converse that he is; and it is the one in that it is the other.”

The Father knows Himself in the Son, the “hanged man on Golgotha.” Just so, “God gives himself to be our object, and the object that he gives to us is none other than the object as which he is given to himself. God says at once to himself and to us: who I am is the Father of that man Jesus.”

As for embodiment: “God does in fact have a body, the body born of Mary and risen into the church and its sacraments. When the disciples turned to the object Jesus, or when we turn to the object loaf and cup or bath or gathered community, we have precisely the body of God for our object.”

In conclusion, he suggests that the same can be expressed along the route of Christology and pneumatology: “The risen Jesus is God as our object. He is also the human being who knows this object, himself, as God. If we speak of the knowledge of God that is possessed only by God himself and b y his perfected saints, it is Christ’s self-knowledge that is the identity of God’s knowledge of himself and this human knowledge of God. The saints and we, in our temporarily different ways, share Christ’s knowledge by the Spirit. For the Spirit is Christ’s Spirit and yet other than he, who shares Christ’s ability to speak truly of God when and where he is pleased to do so. And the Spirit is the very life of the saints.”

In a word, God is an object to us, a recipient of our subjective speech and discourse, because by the Spirit we have the mind of Christ.

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