In the past few months, I have discovered the value of YouTube for my continuing theological journey. Much to my surprise I found many lectures, interviews, and panel discussions featuring some of the greatest theologians and philosophers of our time. These presentations offer succinct and profound wisdom. I was shocked to find excellent lectures and interviews through an organization called “Gospel Conversations” hosted by Tony Golsby-Smith. The content presented in this forum was not what the title led me to expect. Among the presenters was David Bentley Hart, one of my favorite thinkers in the 21st century and perhaps the greatest American theologian/philosopher for our time.
In a lecture entitled “My Journey into Christ’s Cosmic Redemption,” Tony Golsby-Smith relates his experience of growing into an acceptance and appreciation of universal salvation. His presentation contains two insights I would like to share in this article.
The Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew is viewed as the greatest compendium of Jesus’ teachings. Golsby-Smith refers to the “counterintuitive logic of the Sermon on the Mount.” He maintains that is not just inspiring hyperbole. Instead, he sees it as “the pragmatic principle by which God would govern the universe one day.” Behind Jesus’ teachings is the conviction that “unconditional love wins in the end and is the operating model of the universe.”
In other words, Jesus’ teachings point to God’s purpose for creation, a purpose which will be fulfilled “at the end” but which can be discovered, experienced, and fleshed out in our time and place. Here we see another example of “the Now” and the “Not Yet” of the Kin-dom of God. Like the mustard seed growing in the ground and the yeast rising in bread (both of which are invisible to a world alienated from God and goodness), the “Now” is active with the transforming and healing presence of God through the faithfulness of those who embrace and radiate the unconditional love of God—a love which will one day characterize every part of reality (“the Not Yet”).
I find this insight helpful in understanding and appropriating the SoM both for the individual and the wider world. The awesome and uncompromising teachings in the SoM can appear to be impossible for humans to follow. At best, it would seem that we can grow into them gradually and piecemeal. Our faithfulness to Christ’s demands tends to be partial and occasional, but that compromised faithfulness can become a part of “the Now” of God’s active and healing presence in our world. As individuals, we await a complete transformation in the likeness of Jesus (as Paul says, “from one degree of glory into another into the likeness of Jesus”). Such faithfulness bears its fruit even in our world groaning with suffering and injustice. The love that wins in the end can begin that transformation even in “the belly of the dragon.”
The second insight I want to share from Golsby-Smith’s lecture relates to how we think (not what we think but how we think). He argues that how we think is critically important in every aspect of living and laments that such logic is rarely taught in our educational systems. This is especially true in many religious contexts where what to think (dogma, doctrines, etc.) is emphasized and the process of how to think with its creative and liberating nature is looked upon with suspicion. However, learning how to think allows us to make the connections necessary to see life and the world as a whole. Such a vision of wholeness helps us do our part in making the world whole.
The beneficial results of such thinking become apparent once we see those connections in light of the reality and goal of God’s unconditional love. We become graced with an intent which should inspire and guide our lives. From such inspired intention we decide how to implement that intention in our lives and the world about us. This design of how to make our intention practical leads to our and the world’s experience of such transforming and healing love. Thus, we have the three steps of INTENTION, DESIGN, AND EXPERIENCE.
All of this seems so obvious. However, rarely do we begin all our ventures in life with the intention of unconditional love as the defining factor of our lives and relationships. Too many times our intentions are motivated by unworthy desires, fears, pride, and egotism which leave little room for a conspiracy of love. And yet the priority of unconditional love is the premise of all of Jesus’ teachings. He calls us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor (whom he defined as everyone) as we love ourselves. In doing so, we fulfill all that God desires of us.
Golsby-Smith then suggests that this pattern of INTENTION-DESIGN-EXPERIENCE is a helpful way of understanding the Trinity. (He is aware that such a pattern does not exhaust the meaning and depths of the concept of Trinity but can be a practical model for us in sharing in Trinitarian life.) God the Father/Mother can be seen as the source of the intention for creation which is the sharing of being, love, beauty, consciousness, and joy. God the Son becomes the incarnated design which guides our lives. (Paul in Colossians 1 writes that all things hold together in Christ. He is the principle/design of all coherence.) God the Spirit makes the connections which allows for the experience of that love as it suffuses creation. We follow that pattern as we seek to follow Jesus and join him in mending and transforming this world.
What might happen if we began each day centering on the intention of making unconditional love the guiding principle for the next twenty-four hours? What might happen if we pause to ponder how we can practically follow that intention in our interactions with others? And what might happen if we connect with others as we practice such love? It’s so simple, but it’s often the simplest things in life which are the most important. And it all begins with sharing God’s intention for us and for this world She so loves.