God of Promise

God of Promise December 31, 2014

Christoph Schwobel’s analysis of promising (Justification in a Post-Christian Society) opens out into a discussion of theology proper with a reference to Luther’s claim that God identifies Himself in Exodus 3:14 as the God who promises Himself, “so that this promise is God’s essence in relation to which no creature has any essence.” As the God who promises, as the God who is promise, “God [is] the ‘ground of being’” insofar as He is “the telos of being” (21).

The category of “promise” enables Schwobel (Barth-like) to stress both God’s utter independence and His determination toward creatures: “The God who is promise is the God of radical freedom so that the liberum arbitrium can only  be understood as a divine attributed. God is radical self-determination.” This is simply another way of stating that God is promise, the promising God: Because promises are uncompelled. (One can imagine a human being compelled to make a promise, but then promise shades over into obligation.)

At the same time, promises determine both the promiser and the recipient of the promise, and this is true also of God the promise: God’s self-determination as Trinity “includes the active ability to be determined by what is not God, i.e. by God’s creatures.” God’s utterly personal being is, in all its independence and sovereignty, determined by the commitment He makes to creatures. This is not a limitation of His self-determination: He is so utterly self-determining that He can even do this – determine to determine Himself by commitment to creatures.

The structure of divine promise here is the same as the structure of divine love: “The one who loves intends the fulfillment of the one who is loved and is not content with a fulfillment that is not also the fulfillment of the one who is loved” (23). Self-fulfillment isn’t enough; love means that self-fulfillment is only self-fulfillment if the beloved is also fulfilled: A lover who can be fulfilled without his beloved is no lover. So too, “just as God’s self-determination involves the ability to be determined by what is not God, so God’s love vindicates its creative character be becoming reconciling love, reconciling God’s rebellious human creatures to God, and perfectly love, in being faithful to God’s original creative love” (23).

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