The crucifixion of nature and the realism of the cross

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The political theology proposed here addresses the matter of the shape of creatureliness in the perspective of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Attempts to reconfigure un/natural humanity will always encounter the cross of Christ: all utopian attempts are, indeed, 'crossed'. Put differently, Christian hope is founded upon a cross; thereby, it is intensely realistic. For a political theology of nature, what does this mean.? According to Peter Hodgson, the cross has a certain meaning: the basileia vision of Jesus Christ ends in death, thereby indicating that world-historical projects of liberation are bound to fail. This is not quietism: the significance ofthe cross for God indicates God's involvement with and against suffering. The cross thereby indicates the presence of God through suffering and God's work against negation. 'The meaning of the cross', summarises Hodgson, 'is the victory of life over death, the resurrection of the dead'.3

Despite this welcome affirmation, Hodgson's account fails to underscore that on the cross the God-body is crucified. Contrary to Hodgson's tendency to treat the cross as a cipher in the interaction of God and world,

2. Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, passim. 3. Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit, pp. 263-4.

I wish to emphasise that part of the 'meaning' of the cross is dead (human) nature. If we are to accept the point that in the cross all attempts to save the world are indeed crossed, such wisdom and judgment can only be maintained if we follow in the steps of the God-body: the crucifixion is a political death in nature. How then might the cross of the God-body be construed and practised as internal to the Christocentric practice of friendship towards fellowship in the Spirit.?

This is a paradoxical matter: the cross of Christ is both an event of the margins and the place of the redemption of the world. For a political theology of nature, the cross is the liberation of nature; the telos of nature is to be discerned by way of the cross of the God-body. However, in this connection 'emancipation' is commonly practised by humanity, as we have seen, either as mastery over nature or the demand for immersion in nature: as anti-natural or natural. Thus the cross of Christ as the centre of nature is construed by humanity as a boundary to be overcome, as curse rather than blessing;4 or the cross of Christ is marginalised in order to stress the self-sufficiency and purity ofnature. In other words, person-alism denies the sufficiency of Christ's liberatory work and understands the cross as a boundary in the middle to be overcome: the world must be saved by human effort through technological artifice. In contrast, naturalism minimises the boundary as middle, denies the necessity of salvation and thereby regards nature as self-sufficient: human beings should then in some fashion seek immersion in or mimicry of that nature.

In contrast to these positions, I am arguing that, as mediated by the cross, nature features both as centre and as boundary: as affirmation and judgment, blessing and curse. Where does this get us? In chapters 2 and 7, I stressed the election of nature as social: in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all that is social is resurrected. If nature is social, as I have argued, then such social nature is also resurrected. Yet, of course, there is no resurrection without crucifixion; that which is resurrected is previously crucified. Thus we may speak of the crucifixion of non-human nature. If the commitments ofsocial nature and resurrection are right, then nature is crucified also. Yet, in that nature is a created unity, such nature is crucified as both middle and boundary; in the God-body, nature is also crucified as middle and boundary. If the Spirit returns the social Christ to the world, the cross of Christ is the representation of nature as middle and boundary. Thus, the cross ofChrist stands with marginalised nature and with nature as the

4. Here I am drawing freely on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology, pp. 59-65.

centre. To explore further the realism which the cross of Jesus Christ invites in our construal, practical and theoretical, of nature, we must return to the interpretation of nature as social, spatial and temporal.

To speak of the cross as middle and boundary in connection with nature as social is to stress the distorted sociality which sinful humanity seeks to overcome yet cannot. As we have seen, nature does not have its ends in humanity. Yet neither are its ends to be understood as not in relation to humanity. As a way forward, humanity is not obliged to reanimate a humanism which sees humanity as the end of nature. For nature has its end, and does not have its end, in humanity. From this perspective, perhaps some of the commitments of the recent renewal of wisdom theology might be reinterpreted. Of the crucifixion of Jesus, Denis Edwards has written: 'in his death the Wisdom of God is revealed in an even more shocking way as radical compassion which knows no limits... The foolish excess of the cross reveals what is at the heart of the processes of the universe.'5 In a more restricted way, perhaps we might say - by reference one more time to the theme of sacrifice - that the cross indicates that God does not abandon God's creation. Indeed, God re-employs nature as a way to us.

To speak of the cross as middle and boundary in connection with nature as spatial is to note the ways in which humanity is placed in the life of nature. Nor does the God-body, the Logos incarnate, escape the natural destiny of creatures.6 Attempts by human beings to act sicutdeus are countered by the cross ofChrist. Nature therefore cannot be overcome, except in fantasy. Of course, as Bonhoeffer notes, un/natural humanity may prefer to understand itself as anti-natural: 'This means that for his knowledge ofGod man renounces the Word ofGod which constantly descends upon him out of the un-enterable middle and limit of life. Man renounces life from this Word and snatches it for himself. He is himself in the middle.'7 By contrast, true theory and practice must be oriented towards the cruciform reminder of bodiliness. Here the blessing which the cross invites is recognition and acknowledgement of, together with discernment and response to, the ecological situatedness of creatureliness. If here we are warranted to speak of wisdom's 'radical compassion,' to borrow a phrase from Denis Edwards, the death of the God-body refers to not so much a compassion 'without limits' nor to the vulnerability of God in the world,8

5. Denis Edwards, Jesus the Wisdom of God:AnEcologicalTheology (New York: Orbis, 1995), pp. 75,76.

6. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, pp. 169-70.

7. Bonhoeffer, Creation andFall,p. 74. 8. Edwards, Jesus the Wisdom of God,p. 75.

but a recommendation that God's actions cannot be understood apart from creatureliness. Or, as Bonhoeffer liked to put it: 'The bodily is the end of God's ways.'9

To speak of the cross as middle and boundary in connection with nature as temporal is to stress the ways in which our relation with nature as oriented towards us is always mediated by the cross. In cruciform interpretation, all attempts by humanity to 'save the world' are ruled out. Although oriented towards us, nature cannotbe incorporated comprehensively within humanity's schemes. The simplification of human-nature relations in favour of a single metaphor (for example, master or steward) is thereby to be rejected also. At issue here is the vulnerability of nature as it is brought under human administration and the foolishness ofthe humanity that attempts such administration. Failure to attend to the cruciform -that is, realistic - interpretation of nature is to miss the vulnerability of nature and the foolishness ofhumanity.

Through this section, I have been sketching an answer to the following questions: in what ways may the cross of Jesus Christbe construed as a guiding protocol for Christian practice.? How might the cross of the God-body - as an un/natural event - be construed and practised as internal to the Christocentric practice of friendship towards fellowship in the Spirit? As befits the complexity of the concept of nature itself, the response offered is itself complex. The crucifixion of nature invites, supports and reinforces practices which acknowledge the un/natural relations between humanity and non-human nature, affirm the un/natural shape of creatureliness and yet deny attempts to 'master' or organise such creatureliness.

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