Events and Persons
August 1, 2022

God is an event, writes Robert Jenson (Systematic Theology, I, 221). “God is a person,” writes Robert Jenson, on the next page (222). How, Jenson asks, can He be both?

Jenson’s rejoinder: How can He not be both? “What else could be a person?”

A bit more elaborately: “The life of any person is both one event and many events.”

The last part of that is unproblematic: My life is the sum or product of my birth, my first words, my potty-training, the events of learning in school, events on the basketball court, the event of my marriage, etc. etc.

The problem arises in trying to understand how myself and my life constitute one event. Here we have to turn to theology, or the unity of persons will break apart into innumerable isolated events.

“To grasp my life as a whole,” Jenson says, “I must grasp the mutual dramatic coherence of the events of my life. . . . I must grasp the faithfulness of each of my acts and sufferings to all the rest” (222). The Triune God “is truly faithful to himself, so that all his acts cohere to make him the one act that he personally is, and so that no further explanation is required” (222).

God’s actions, the events that we narrate about God (in the creed, for instance), don’t get fragmented because God is faithful to his actions. His life is one event and He is a unified trihypostatic person because His actions fit perfectly together.

Created persons are also eventful, but as creatures, we don’t have the faithfulness in ourselves to guarantee our lives will have dramatic coherence. Our lives are coherent only “in the coherence of God’s intention for us.”

That is: Our eventful lives are an event only because “God does not let me go altogether.” His faithfulness is the “guarantor of [my] continuity” (222). Thus, only in God am I a person with a coherent life.

The Triune God is the condition of possibility of telling the events of my life as a story, and so is the condition of possibility for identifying my eventful life as the person me.

We can flip the point: What’s the alternative to saying God is the guarantor of the coherence of our autobiography: “If I do not honor God as the guarantor of this continuity, I will be driven to account for it by something in me, that is, I will be driven to the myth of an uneventful continuity somehow behind the events of my life” (222).

That is a species of idolatry.

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