The Coming of the Light
In chapter 2 of Heart of the World, Von Balthasar discusses “The Coming of the Light.” When the Word of God appears, he is the expression of love. When God comes to Noah, he comes in judgment, destroying the wicked. The world continues in its darkness and continues to hide from the light. But this time, as God draws near, He does not destroy but restores. “When God thunders, the cloud of wrath pours out a rustling of love” (38).
Von Balthasar introduces an idea that is worth further consideration and application, he suggests that the natural movement of all things is upward. He says,
What comes from below naturally strives for the heights. Its impulse presses on to the light; its impetus a seeking of power. Every finite spirit wants to assert itself and luxuriantly unfurl its leafy crown in the sun of existence. Whatever is poor wants to be rich—rich in power, in warmth, through wisdom and sympathy. This is the law of the world. For all things strive to pass from enveloped seed to fully developed life. The possible impatiently presses on toward form. The obscure must move towards the light through rubble and earth. (38)
In this movement, things collide. Part of the fall is the absence of harmony is the development of persons and things. We often try to occupy the same space at the same time: thus giving way to motivations and actions that are rooted in violence toward others. He continues,
And in this general onrush, creatures collide and place limits on each other, and these limits are movable in the play and strife over existence, and the borders between creatures are called customer, convention, family and state. (38)
Von Balthasar suggests that the movement beyond self is a good thing, a sign of God’s essential goodness, but the absence of harmony in creation turns this proper drive into the seeds for violence and corruption in human relations.
Because God is essentially complete, he does not move upwards toward completion. He moves downward not by necessity but by choice to reveal his love. Man’s voracious appetite seeks to consume the light of God’s love. Thus Von Balthasar can say, “The light came into the darkness, but the darkness had no eye for the light: it had only jaws” (39). Outside of redemption, even in the revealing of God’s love, man’s corruption subverts the goodness of God, seeking to consume the fountain of love in it ravenous lust. But the encounter with God’s love means death to our urge and a transformation into God’s love.
Man wants to soar up, but the Word wants to descend. Thus the two will meet half-way, in the middle, in the place of the Mediator. But they will cross like swords cross; their wills opposed to one another. For God and man are related in a manner far different from man and woman: and in no way do they complement one another. And we may not say that, to show his fullness, God needs the void, as man needs fullness to nourish his void. (40)
Von Balthasar proper clarification of this encounter maintains the distinction between Creator and created. This is not pantheism. This is the God who is complete in Himself, freely loving, freely embracing, freely transforming his creation. Love comes down to interrupt our ascent and turn us around. I think it is here that Von Balthasar makes an interesting distinction about our Trinitarian faith. Most religions are moving upward: even if they deny a creator per se they are moving beyond matter to immaterial (even atheism could be said to move beyond the particular to the universal). But the Incarnation embraces the particular. Listen again,
…instead of going past God’s Word in its descent and pursuing the rash ascent to the Father, we are now to turn around and, along with the Word, go back down the steps we have climbed, find God on the road to the world, on no road other than that by which the Son journeys on towards the Father. For only love redeems. There are not two sorts of love. There is not, alongside God’s love, another, human love. Rather, when God so determines and he proclaims his Word, love then descends, love then flows out into the void, and God has set up his claim and his emblem over every love. (40-41)
The problem is that even though human strives upward, they are closed to the true light. They turn from the light because they do not want their evil deeds to be seen by the light. “He beamed into the gloom, but the darkness turned away” (41). In a masterful metaphor, Von Balthasar describes the sin-filled world:
Closed and well-armored was the world against God from all sides, and it had no eyes to look out since all of its glances were turned inwards on itself. But its interior resembled a hall of mirrors in which the finite appeared refracted as far as the eye could see, multiplying itself infinitely and thus playing the self-sufficient god. Only the world’s gullet gaped outwards, ready to swallow down whoever dared approach. (42)
This is a war for God’s beloved creation. Sin has so corrupted the interior of the world that it is trapped in an abyss of self consumed lust. Its only hope is to be redeemed from the inside out: God will enter into the heart of His creation, exposing His love filled heart to all the powers of evil for only love can overcome this damnation. Here is an extended quote that captures the stunning beauty of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ:
And now God’s Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination—that his light must sink down into the gloom—he accepted the battle and the declaration of war. And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas into the monster’s belly and thus penetrate death’s innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin’s mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man’s incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the wolrd; in his impotent obedience to the Father, he would visibly show the impotence of revolt; through his own weakness unto death he would bring to light the deathly weakness of such a despairing resistance to God; he would let the world do its will and thereby accomplish the will of the Father; he would grant the world its will, thereby breaking the world’s will; he would allow his own vessel to be shattered, thereby pouring himself out; by pouring out one single drop of the divine Heart’s blood he would sweeten the immense and bitter ocean. This was intended to be the most incomprehensible of exchanges: from the most extreme opposition would come the highest union, and the might of his supreme victory was to prove itself in his utter disgrace and defeat. For his weakness would already be the victory of his love for the Father, and as a deed of his supreme strength, this weakness would far surpass and sustain in itself the world’s pitiful feebleness. He alone would henceforth be the measure and thus also the meaning of all impotence. He wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.
No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands: behave as he pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is great than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt, scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever but prove love’s superiority; and the black the night, the more radiant does love shine. (43-44)
Like a Trojan horse, love enters in the form of a human heart and once inside the gates of humankind, Jesus conquers the kingdoms of this world, revealing the kingdom of the heavens through obedient love. His heart of love overcomes the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it. He takes the breach of sin and destruction into his own heart. Von Balthasar says,
For it is not ecstasy that redeems, but rather obedience. And it is not freedom that enlarges, but rather our bonds. And so it was that God’s Word came into the world bound by the compulsion of love. As the Father’s Servant and as the true Atlas, he took the world upon his shoulders. Through his own deeds he joined together two hostile wills, and, by binding them, he undid the inextricable knot. (55)
At the center of the world, this Heart brings God’s particularized love and grace to particular persons. It is not simply a universal restoration, it is the restoration of the the particular. “No destiny resembles another, and no grace is impersonal” (56). Just as a heart pumps blood to all its members, the Heart of God circulates love to and through each particular member of his creation.