Because God is a hospitable God, he consistently moves toward the earth, enacting Redemption, most notably through the person of Jesus Christ. Wirzba writes, “When the world is in trouble and life is being degraded or destroyed, the love of God goes to work in acts of healing” (145). Therefore, Jesus came so that, in his own words, “they [people] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus performed his healing miracles so that people could begin to experience that abundant life now. Jesus sees and desires humans to experience what life would feel like if love were truly made real for all of us (153).
In order for the church to participate in God’s redemption through his Son, the church is called to be a rich community. “Though we each exist as individual persons, our identity and agency are entirely dependent on how well we are able to fully face each other, receiving the nurture we need and giving the help we are uniquely equipped to provide” (162). In light of this, Norman Wirzba asks the question: “If a healthy life is always life together, what, practically speaking, are the forms and ways of life we need to learn, so that our presence is nurturing and healing?” (163) While Norman Wirzba offers a few points on this most important question, like working within the pain of the world, forgiveness, baptism and Eucharist, I wish he had spent more time developing a response to this question. Also, while Wirzba does mention the cruciform nature of Christ’s love, I wish he would have developed it a little more, given the centrality of the cross in the demonstration of God’s love for his creatures (see Romans 5:8).
If the aim of God’s love is to see the flourishing of all creatures, then what is the final Hope to which God is working? Heaven. And heaven is “the time when everything that moves moves only under the power of the love of God. It is the time when every relationship is governed by nurture, flourishing, and celebration” (200). Just like with all good things, we can use the idea of heaven to harm more than help. First, we can use it to divide people into who is in and who is out, and second, we can use heaven as a means of escape from this world, subtly and not-so-subtly buying into dualism (201). Rather than using heaven as a place of division and escape, Wirzba reminds us: “Christianity is genuinely ‘good news’ insofar as it proclaims that in the person of Jesus Christ the life of heaven has come to earth” (206, emphasis original). The grand narrative is Scripture of one long story of God continually moving toward the earth and never away from it—the new Jerusalem descends from heaven where there is no longer need for any temple because the whole earth becomes God’s temple (Revelation 21:1-5).
Because heaven is God continually moving toward the earth, the church’s visible demonstration must mirror this move. This will be seen when we as individuals within the church learn to harmonize with one another. In order to do this reconciliation becomes vital, for there can be no harmony where discord exists. Wirzba writes, “The goal is not to diminish or stifle an individual’s life. It is, rather, to position selves with each other, so that their being together unleashes the full potential of each individual, while at the same time enriching the life of the whole” (225). The goal of heaven is never unison, but rather perfect harmony, which is a more robust vision, albeit a more difficult one as well.
How do we as a church, then, move forward and begin to live into this vision of love? My tendency might be to invent a cool new “love” program, or to do a sermon series on love, both of which might be beneficial. However, where we need to start as a church is in confession—confessing where we have utterly failed in demonstrating God’s love to a hurting, violent world, settling for the world’s vision instead of God’s.
Norman Wirzba presents a captivating vision for the Christian life. The church likes to talk a lot about love, but rarely as leaders, do we take the time to actually pray and think about the difficult task of manifesting God’s love, a love so countercultural to the popular ideas of love. I appreciate how Wirzba interweaves stories of real people trying to model this difficult love to a very broken world. While Wirzba at times distances himself from some orthodox positions, like original sin, and does not develop God’s cruciform love, as much as I hoped, he does challenge all of us to think deeply about love. As one who has been raised in and shaped by conservative evangelical churches, colleges, and seminaries, Wirzba helps me see love from a slightly different angle than I might not have considered otherwise.
After working as a professional chef for seven years, Andrew Camp is the spiritual growth pastor at Mountain Life Church in Park City, UT, where his focus is on pastoring and leading small group leaders. He has a Masters in Spiritual Formation & Soul Care from Talbot Seminary. He and his wife, Claire, have lived in the Park City area for three years, and are expecting their first child in June.