Every few years or so I've tried to make time to read through a full blown systematic theology. This is not a novel form of intellectual masochism, but an intentional obedience to the call of God to a discipleship of the intellect. Sure, there are some writers who seem to make it harder than it needs to be. But the recognised theologians, the big names, the substantial presences on the theological stage, are far too important to the life of the church and the mind of its leaders to be sidelined by an arrogant laziness disguised as intellectual modesty. And those same substantial presences are far, far too important to be ignored, neglected or despised by those of us called to preach, to care, to serve the church, to build the Body of Christ, and to do so thoughtfully, reverently and from a foundation more durable and adaptable than the latest time limited pragmatic programmes geared to ecclesial renewal of one form or another.
Which is why over the years I've sat in the study chair, fastened the seat-belt, adjusted the mirrors to give better vision, checked I had enough fuel (chai tea and Hovis digested biscuits the current preferred combination ), gripped the book with both hands, and started to read. Half an hour a day eventually gets it done. Which is how I come to be at page 438 of Wolfhart Pannenberg's volume 1. And this post was born when I read his theological reflection on the patience of God. Pannenberg is not easy to read, but...
No wait. First let me tell you about the other night. I took a long run in the new car, a Honda Jazz with which I am inordinately pleased. We went into Lewis
Grassic Gibbon country - Cairn O Mount, Auchenblae, and Arbuthnott. For a while we sat
at the view point on Cairn O Mount and admired a huge vista of
countryside through heavy rain accompanied by shafts of bright sunshine
framed in a vivid half rainbow. It's wild,
miles of heather moorland and mountain, but sloping into green uplands
and fields towards the Mearns.
Now. Reading Panneberg's theology can sometimes be a similar experience to looking at a challenging rough landscape under dark skies, in heavy rain that reduces visibility. But just as often there are shafts of bright sunlight, a partial rainbow and moments of transfigured thought and intellectual epiphany. Here's one of them, from pages 438-9:
"Barth said of patience that it is present 'where space and time are given with a definite intention, where freedom is allowed in expectation of a response' (CD, II/1, 408). Patience leaves to others space for their own existence and time for the unfolding of their own being. If it is not the enforced patience of those who impotently watch the course of events but the patience of the powerful who can intervene in what happens but refrains from doing so, and if the patience is shown to his own creatures, then it is a form of the love that lets the creatures have their own existence. God's patience then, is neither indifferent tolerance nor an impotent but brave endurance of circumstances that cannot be altered. It is an element of the creative love that wills the existence of creatures. It waits for the response of creatures in which they fulfill their destiny."
Patience as love restraining power in order to allow freedom. So patience as the self-limitation that allows space, time and opportunity for the other to grow. And patience therefore as an active form of passivity, an intentional self-imposed limitation which gives permission and trusts the other to be and to become. As a vision of how God is willfully implicated in the life of his creation, Pannenberg's theology of divine patience suggests that in God the three cardinal virtues of faith hope and love have their divine counterpart. The faithfulness, hopefulness and love of God guaranteeing that creation will not forever be in bondage to futility, but in Christ will be brought to fulfilment in the end, and however long it takes, it will not wear out the patience of the God.