Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Drama of Divine Logic: "O What a Savior" and the Four Daughters of God

Ernie Haase's signature song is "O, What a Savior," below.

One line that bothers some theological purists is "But they searched through heaven, and they found a Savior to save a poor, lost soul like me." They searched? But the Incarnation and death of Jesus were part of God's plan from all eternity past. Whaddaya mean, they searched through heaven?

I'm glad to be able to cast a little historical light on the pedigree of the search through heaven. A trope in Medieval morality plays was a scene now known as "The Debate of the Four Daughters of God," derived from Bernard of Clairvaux. The four daughters of God are Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace. (See Psalm 85:10, "Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.") After Adam and Eve sin, the four daughters have a falling out, with some saying that man should be simply punished and others saying that he should be given mercy. To reconcile the four daughters, God decrees the Incarnation and death of the Son. In a version which occurs in a mystery cycle known as the N-town plays or Coventry Cycle (circa 1450-1500), we find that "The Daughters put their unresolved problem to God the Son and he orders a search in heaven and earth for one who will die for Man. When this fails the Son accepts the role himself as [G]od and man concurrently."

An ancient pedigree indeed for the lyrics to a Southern gospel song, and one not lightly to be tossed away.

But still, it may be replied, ancient or not, it's all rubbish. Nobody had to search for the Son. God was never in any doubt about what He would do. This is all just an allegory, even if it was originally a medieval allegory.

Indeed. But an allegory for what?

God of His free choice decided to redeem man. Had it not been for that choice of God, mankind would have been lost. The search through heaven dramatizes that yawning chasm between what is and what might have been, that irrepressible drama of Divine freedom and human lostness. By stretching it out in the allegorical form of a search, we see just what it meant: The Son, willing but one will with the Father, eternally says "yes" to Incarnation, to suffering, to death. Without that...a blank. Dismay, disappointment, and death. A failed search, if you will. The eternal will of God has a strict internal logic, and bound up in that logic are all the "what ifs," all the drama of both Divine and human freedom. Enough drama to fill a few human allegorical plays, easily.

They searched through heaven, and they found a Savior, to save a poor, lost soul like me.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Lydia.
I enjoyed that immensely.

John R.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you very much!