We’ve seen in my previous post how W.H. Vanstone argues in his book Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense that “authentic love” is “limitless, precarious and vulnerable”. He then goes on to quote the Dies Irae as an example of how Christian devotion has attributed those qualities to the work of Christ in our redemption:
Quaerens me sedisti lassus:
Redemisti, crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
Crucified hast dearly bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
As Vanstone observes:
The word “lassus” – “weary” or “spent” – expresses the limitlessness of love’s self-giving: the word “passus” – “suffering” – expresses the vulnerability of love: the word “cassus” – “in vain” – expresses the precariousness of love and the possibility that its outcome is tragedy and its work in vain.
He argues that the same quality of love is found not only in God’s work of redemption but in his work of creation. God’s relationship to creation is frequently presented as one of an effortless supremacy. However, if the redemption reveals “not one aspect of the divine being, nor one moment of the divine history, but the fullness of what God is”, then:
whatever characterises the event or work of redemption characterises also, through and through, the being and activity of God.
Hence those same qualities of limitlessness, precariousness and vulnerability as are found in the work of redemption are also found in God’s work of creation, and in his relationship to the creation.
Vanstone describes this as the “Kenosis of God”, as an extension to the “Kenosis of the Redeemer”. Getting into the arguments for and against the “kenotic theory” are beyond the scope of this post (though see this interesting post on Vanstone and kenosis), but perhaps another way of looking at this is from the point of view of the theology of the cross, which asserts in a similar way that God’s work of redemption in Christ is characteristic of how God reveals himself to us rather than exceptional.
Vanstone summarises his argument in the final paragraph of this chapter:
If God is love, and if the universe is His creation, then for the being of the universe God is totally expended in precarious endeavour, of which the issue, as triumph or tragedy, has passed from his hands. For that issue, as triumph or tragedy, God waits upon the response of his creation. He waits as the artist or as the lover waits having given all. … Always, for the richness of the creation, God is made poor: and for its fullness God is made empty.
This is undoubtedly the most controversial area of Vanstone’s argument, and I’m not sure I would want to go as far as he does in claiming that God’s creative power is “exhausted” or “totally expended” by his work of creation. I’m also conscious that I’ve skated very lightly over what is a dense and complex chapter in Vanstone’s book.
That said, even if we might want to moderate it to some extent, Vanstone’s general account of God’s involvement in creation – one of sacrificial love, of “putting heart and soul into it” (if we can put it that way) – seems more in keeping with a God who reveals himself in the Cross than do accounts that present him as reigning supreme, effortless and unaffected over his creation. I think it would be a mistake to dismiss Vanstone outright here: at the very least, I’m sure there is a lot to be gained from a dialogue between Vanstone’s account and the more traditional view.
Nor is it necessary, I think, to accept Vanstone’s argument here in its entirety to benefit from what he moves on to, namely the role of the church in responding to God’s love. We will look at this in my next post.