Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Covenantal Pluralism

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Covenantal Pluralism

Article excerpt

"You are my witnesses, says the Lord" (Is. 43:10). The people of Israel are God's servants called -- yes, chosen -- to witness to their loving God and the divine plan for humanity and the cosmos. In my usage here, "the people of Israel" refers not to Israelis alone or to Jews only but to all who affirm that God has made a valid covenant with Abraham and his descendants, all who take up the covenantal task of world redemption so the covenant can be fulfilled, for that is the purpose of making the covenant. That is to say, Christians also -- and, indeed, Muslims too -- are recognized as Abraham's cherished children, at least when they purge themselves of hatred of Jews and supersessionist claims.

To be true to its witness, the people of Israel tell three stories to the world, that is, the rest of humanity, in the presence of God and in the presence of their fellow human beings. Drawing from their many experiences and traditions they tell (1) the story of creation, the divine vision of an intended perfect world; we stake our existence, both as Jews and as Christians, that this world will come to be; (2) the story of covenant, that process operating through a divine-human partnership whereby our imperfect world will be brought to that state of perfection; and (3) the story of redemption, sometimes called the end of days or the Messiah story, which is the culmination and realization of the process. At the end, as our story goes, holistic perfection will be achieved. There will be peace between humans, between humans and all the rest of life, between all of life and nature itself, and between all of the above and God. To put it another way, these three stories add up to one comprehensive story that I believe is best described as the triumph of life.

This master story can be summarized. We -- that is to say, all living things, sustained and nurtured by God -- will fill the world with life. We will reshape the historical reality, the flesh-and-blood world we inhabit, to sustain that life at the highest level. Life will multiply and triumph quantitatively over all its enemies, including death and disorder. Life will equally triumph qualitatively. All of life's capacities will be developed fully and realized. When life blossoms in its fullest capacity in a world that treats all of life -- especially human life, the most developed form -- and sustains it with the highest and fullest respect that it deserves, then life will be in harmony with existence and deeply related to God, its source and sustainer. That is our story and our claim.

Telling this story of creation is our witness. The present facts contradict the narrative fairly substantially. Still, the story of creation is shared and told, almost as one, by Jews and Christians alike. This story leads humans to see existence -- as best we can -- from the cosmic perspective, sub specie eternitatis. From that vantage point, what do we see as Jews and Christians? There are three grand movements in the unfolding pattern of this cosmos. First, the world is moving from chaos to order, from the moment of the big bang when there was not even a law of nature to the regularity and dependability of the laws of the world we inhabit.

Second, the world is moving from nonlife to life. This is the surprising claim of our tradition. Over these billions of years the world has moved from a state in which no life existed to the emergence of life. From that one cell, however many times replicated, life has grown quantitatively and developed qualitatively; it has luxuriated and spread into a vast range of forms over a variety of sustaining conditions. The statement that life is growing and, indeed, that the world is moving from nonlife to life is counter-intuitive. How can one account for the ascending current of life when we all encounter death in almost every moment of our lives? We know that all living things die. The answer, of course -- the key -- is God, the hidden, infinite source of life with limitless goodness, love, and unlimited power that sustains life and nurtures every possible form of life into being. …

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