“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
I read this passage this morning because we are studying it in our College Group on Tuesdays. There is obvious connections to John 15 and my research, so I could not help but meditate on the Trinity. These two verses focus on the relationship between the Father and the Son and raise some interesting questions and observations for me. (This is not a well-crafted essay. It is a list of ideas that might give seed for further reflection):
- If someone sins, we have an advocate in Jesus. The second person of the Trinity stands beside us and before the first person of the Trinity as a paraclete. What does this say about the relationship between the Father and the Son? What does it say about our relationship with the Father? We cannot get away from a sense of otherness when it comes to the First. God is Creator, Other, Not Us, and there is the possibility of being estranged, cut off, not in fellowship, separated. We cannot deny that.
- This otherness of God is absolutely necessary for life and relationship. If God was not other, then there would be no us. It is the relatedness–positively or negatively–with the other that constitutes our own existence. Without the Other, how would we even know that we exist in the first place?
- And yet, in the Otherness, and the separation from it that must be part of the Otherness, there is a freedom to be different and not in a positive relationship. This freedom is what opens space for destructiveness–that which is labeled “darkness” in John.
- The irony of the freedom is that, if we “turn away” from the Other that gives us life, we die, because without the relationship, without remaining in that relationship, we cease to be constituted by it and we cease to be.
- Is this like the trapped animal that bites the hand of the one who wants nothing more than to rescue it? Or, like the drowning person who drags the rescuer into the deep because of blind fear?
- If God were singular and not Trinity, then all would be lost. The ontological gap between us and the Other would be insurmountable. Truly, this is unthinkable, because it is the relationship that creates life in the first place, yet, if we imagine this is in the frame of substance ontology, then the gap is unspannable. Yet, the Second, the Redeemer, the Incarnate Word, Jesus stands beside us and faces the First.
- Jesus standing beside us is not so much a crossing of the ontological gap as it is a demonstration of the constructive relationality–the telos1 –of the Trinity in its fullest form. The Second is facing the First, speaking–ad-voca–to the Father, not for himself, but for us. The direction and intent of his speaking is for the other. It is for us and our best interest, and it is for the Father and the constructive relationality. This is the propitiation–the sacrifice–for our sin. Not that the First required blood to be appeased, but that the second needed to be first for the other, and not for self, in order for the telos to be fulfilled.
- What I find most interesting about this passage is that John calls Jesus the Advocate, when Jesus called the Spirit the Advocate in John 15. Where is the Spirit in 1 John? Are Jesus and the Spirit conflated in this passage? Are they doing the same work in this moment and the Spirit is present in the act of advocacy itself?
- Is the risen Jesus present with the Father in the Otherness while the Spirit is present with us and connecting us to the Advocacy that the Second is presenting?
- This Advocacy is not just for us but is for the whole world. This is an incredibly important phrase. This, I believe, cuts against the grain of the decisional theology that invites people to cross the ontological gap by receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. It also cuts across the grain of any idea of limited atonement. God has given, and is giving, life to all things, and Jesus is advocating for all things. The question is whether or not all things are fully aware and fully participating in the relationality that Jesus advocates.2
- When we “walk in the darkness” (1 John 2:7-11) we are not abiding in God (we are not in the contstructive relationality) and destructive things happen. The darkness is self-focus. It is the “lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life.” (1 John 2:16) This is what John calls “the World” (kosmos). It is not, again, an ontological gap between God’s realm of perfect substance and the realm of the imperfect, created substance of the universe. It is a dissonance of telos. It is a conflict of purpose, focus, and intentionality. God’s way (the light) is other-focused for the creation of the we ((here I can build a case for the Me/We Priniciple)) while the “way of the World” (our exercise of destructive freedom) is self-focus, believing that my own survival and getting what I want is primary to the needs of the other.
- The “foolishness” (in the eyes of the World) of God’s way is that it is only when we focus on the needs of others that we actually save ourselves, because it is only in the relationality that we are eternally created.
- Put simply, we need the survival of the whole to insure our own survival. My survival does not rest on the elimination of the Other to protect my own rightness and dominance, but rests, rather, on the survival of the other, and the invitation of the other to be in constructive relationship with me. We do not have to be the same (nor can we, since we are truly other) but we do have to be in fellowship if we are to survive into “the age.” (this is the Greek term translated “forever” at the end of 1 John 2:17)
- 1 John 2:17 – “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”
- here I mention the word telos because that is the word translated perfection in verse 5 “but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.” The telos, or the purpose, for creation itself is the mutual, other-oriented love–agape–of the God that constitutes life [↩]
- Yes, we must acknowledge that there is an act of the human will involved in this process. At some level, we, as individuals, must face the Other and say “yes” to the relationship. However, Jesus has advocated for us and the First has said “Yes,” thus constituting life itself. Our “yes” is derivitive to the primary “Yes” of God. We are not passive receivers of God’s salvation, but we are also not “in control” of our salvation, either. We are in relationship with God, who is for us, and we are invited each moment to face–with Jesus and in the power of the Spirit–the Other–both in the First and in our fellow creatures–in constructive relationality. [↩]