Unity and Distinction
Written By: Robert D Brinsmead
Extracts from a discussion group.
Hodge was a classical Calvinist who gave expression to his theology in his very authorative volumes called Systematic Theology. On the basis of his premise that God was all-sufficient in Himself and therefore could not be enriched by anything outside of Himself, Hodge went on to state that when God exercised pity toward a poor human sinner, God was ultimately only being piteous to Himself – or when God loves or shows mercy He is ultimately only loving and merciful to Himself. I read this stuff when I was studying theology at Avondale, and I found that Hodge’s theology was almost too dreadful to read. Logical and systematic, yes, but his God was in my mind an absolute bastard without an altruistic bone in God’s body. The SDA’s like good Arminians went only half-way down this road. Ellen White could say that the most important thing about what happened in the salvation event of Christ’s Death and Resurrection was not our salvation, but the vindication of God’s law. So God used our misery to put his love on display and his law on a pedestal, meaning that we were the collateral beneficiaries of his love but not the main game. Do I get my point across in all of this?
The problem with monism – that we are all sparks from the one God and are in essence part of God – leads to the same conclusion, namely, that when God loves God is just loving Godself and when God shows compassion, God is compassionate to Godself.
The relational aspect to love means that love is not a disguised form of loving oneself. Love can genuinely give, as Jesus said, hoping for nothing in return, never expecting to get it back, throwing it away, because love is love for the Other – the inseparably distinct Other. Love creates a bond of empathy for the other without compromising the freedom and the independence of the recipient. It is not a missionary love that uses loves as a means to make converts and bring the beneficiaries into the servitude of some kind of indebtedness.
I remember that when I attended a certain church service recently, the spectacle of two or three hundred people recounting the events of passion week appalled me.
I thought about how many people were going over the events of Christ’s suffering, praising God and the Son for all this, how often they were doing this as if God and Jesus would expect them to go on doing this as millions have done for centuries. I mean, would not this have to be an extreme form of OCD? Would not the living Christ be utterly sick of this charade – I could almost see him entering this church and chasing them all out saying, “I am sick to death of hearing this ore’ and ore’, go out and think about someone else’s suffering for a change.” Yes, even a good memorial can be overdone.
I’ve just read Bernard Haisch, The God Theory. Not bad! Not bad how he refutes ID yet affirms Creation with a purpose/plan – though I feel like responding, Oh, come on now, that is just another form of ID. It just takes ID back a step – say, before evolution started. I don’t go along with his Monism, which is very common in a lot of Eastern mysticism, New Age movement, Eckhart Tolle etc. Monism – which ends of making the Creator and the created all the one thing (In its extreme form, “I am God”) – fails to keep two basic things in proper tension: Unity and Distinction, which I learned so long ago, and still hold to, is foundational of all good theology and ethics.
Monism stresses the Unity in such a way as to deny any real Distinction. That is to say, it emphasizes our unity with God in such a way that it destroys our distinction from God.
A good illustration of Unity and Distinction is husband and wife in marriage. There is one marriage but distinction of persons wherein one personality is not merged into the other or lost by the unity. Heresy generally consists not in what it affirms, but in what it denies.
Just to add a dimension or two to what I just said about Unity and Distinction.
A classical illustration of what errors are embraced by a failure to preserve both aspects is what environmentalism pushes as Biocentrism. Biocentrism affirms that all life is equally sacred. Man is no more sacred that a polar bear, or some say, no more sacred than a tree. This is an environmental doctrine which affirms the humans are guilty of an anthroprocentrism that puts human’s above the rest of the animal kingdom or above the biosphere. I have never been able to figure out whether they extend this equal value of all life to parasites like flees, ticks and chiggers or to things like the microorganisms that can kill us – its a bit like an old song that used to go something like this, “Don’t kill a fly, it might be your uncle or your brother or your sister…” What is philosophically wrong with biocentrism is that it stresses the unity of life to such a degree that it loses sight of any proper distinction between one life form and another.
It is tempting to say something more on the meaning of “marriage” in this context, but I simply suggest that those who are trying to “broaden” the meaning of marriage (removing the distinction) are making the same basic mistake as in Monism and Biocentrism.