Marilyn Adams on the Resurrection  

Posted by Joe Rawls in


Marilyn McCord Adams is Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford as well as a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Before that she was a professor at Yale. Before that she was a professor at UCLA and a fellow parishioner at St Mary-Palms. Her research specialty is medieval theology and philosophy. A self-described Anglo-Catholic, she has written a most provocative book called Christ and Horrors (Cambridge University Press 2006). In this she tries to tie together the Incarnation, the Resurrection of Jesus, our own resurrection at the end of the age, the physical restoration of the non-human cosmos, and the divine resolution of the aftermath of suffering, especially horrors. Horrors, as defined by Adams, are "evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the particpant's life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole"(32). In other words, how does God heal the despair of the victims or perpetrators of things like murder, incest, or genocide?

Adams calls this healing process "horror-defeat" and it has three stages (47). In Stage-I God does not remain aloof from our suffering, but enters into it; this is one aspect of the Incarnation. Since many if not most people die with unresolved pain, God continues the healing process immediately after death; this is Stage-II horror-defeat. Finally, Stage-III will occur at the point in the furture when we are resurrected into glorified bodies and the cosmos is renewed as well.

This is a book that will reward several re-readings, as can be gathered by the following excerpts.

...since radical vulnerability to horrors renders embodied personhood in this world a curse, something which...robs our ante-mortem careers of any positive significance, it is conditionally necessary that Divine goodness-to human horror participants turn embodied personhood into an ultima facie blessing. We have paid prices to fill that role in God's plan. A God Who means to be good-to us would have to make it pay big dividends for us as well. For these reasons, horrors make human bodily resurrection conditionally necessary for the fulfillment of Divine purposes (212).

Merely human effort cannot harrow the hell of horrendous evil, because horrors are a product of systemic and structural mismatches: between God and creature; between the material and the personal; between the material and the spiritual within human beings; between human nature and our material environment of real and apparent scarcity; between what God is and what we are. The human condition cannot become optimal or even excellent unless God is able and eventually ready and willing to "change the system" and establish a new world order. The completion of Stage-II and Stage-III horror-defeat requires Divinely instigated cosmic renovation!

Notice that I am not saying that God is compelled by the necessity of the Divine nature to re-create us or to renew the material cosmos. Both creation and re-creation are a matter of God's free and contingent choice. Rather, just as Anselm argues that a God-man is conditionally necessary, given Divine purposes for humankind and given human sin, so I want to say that resurrection and cosmic remodel are conditionally necessary, given God's love for material creation and given God's love for human being(s). (213)



This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at Wednesday, April 15, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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