Written on: April 30, 2019
Elizabeth Johnson’s most recent book, Creation and the Cross (Orbis Books, 2018), is well worth a thoughtful read. She uses an effective dialogic style throughout the book, which I found to be a skillful way of clarifying her approach to creation and the cross.
Johnson first carefully counters the theory that the Cross is necessary because only infinite satisfaction can appease a dishonored God. She does this by explaining the 11th century, feudal origin of the theory and the subsequent misconceptions that developed into a “full-blown theological system focused on fall and redemption…which contradicts the mercy of God as revealed in scripture,” Creation and the Cross pp.12 and 155. This discussion dominates five of the seven sections of Johnson’s book and is illustrative of how theology develops and sometimes, goes astray.
After disproving what is called the satisfaction theory, Johnson then goes on to stress the importance of reclaiming the mercy of God so that all creation can be included in a theology of salvation. To accomplish this, Johnson proposes a theology of accompaniment, of God’s solidarity with creation. For instance, as God promised Noah, “This (rainbow) is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen. 9:16 – 17). In Jesus’ becoming ‘flesh’ in the Incarnation, he becomes “The firstborn of all creation” (Col.1:15 – 20), suggesting Jesus’ accompaniment is not only of humankind but of all of creation. Elizabeth writes that “Christ, in drinking the cup of suffering and going down to the nothingness of death, is one with the flesh of the earth and thus, Jesus Christ risen embodies the ultimate hope of all creatures in creation.” The final sections of Johnson’s book resonate well with Pope Francis’ teaching in his inspiring encyclical on our common home, Laudato Si.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who desires to deepen their understanding of God’s mercy, the cross and human solidarity with creation.