“Restlessness is the ‘movement’ of abiding in a relation with the divine communion, a relation that constantly enlarges the human being so that he may grow ever more, from glory to glory.”
Scripture tells us that upon finishing his creation, God rested to take delight in it (Gn 2:2–3; Ps 149). It also tells us that he commanded man to rest (Ex 16:29–30; 20:8–11), so that he might consider the greatness of the nuptial vocation to which he is called (Hos 2:18–20; Eph 5:32). This command contains, too, the promise that man may finally enter into God’s own rest (Ex 33:14; Dt 3:20; Josh 21:44) and find his peace (quies) remaining in God’s love (Jn 15:1–17).1 On the other hand, it could also be said that God himself knows no rest. God accompanies man, asking him to follow to an unknown place (Is 55:8–11; Lk 16:22–23; Jn 21:18). As we see in the lives of Abraham and Moses, God gradually but unceasingly pulls man out of his own homeland, out of his own well-established worldview, and fulfills before his eyes the promise made when, in the Son, the Father called every creature to existence: the promise to reconcile all things in the Son (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20). God, then, is always present and engaged with man. He is always “at work” (Jn 5:17). This coexistence of rest and restlessness in God is nevertheless not an eternal succession of moments of action and idleness. Because Christ has revealed God to be absolute love (1 Jn 4:8), restlessness cannot be the absolute’s “restless process of superseding itself.”2 Rather, restlessness indicates God’s own being-love, in himself (begetting, spirating) and for man (creating, redeeming).3 Man’s being, created ex nihilo in God’s own image (Gn 1:27; Jn 1:3; Col 1:16), reflects the ontological structure of rest and restlessness that belongs to triune love. It does so, however, in an analogical way.
The following pages offer an account of how human existence reflects the presence of restlessness in rest. The call to incorporation into Christ is, in fact, an ever-restless, ever-resting growth within man of Christ—who comes to indwell with the Father and the Holy Spirit—and, through the Holy Spirit, of man in Christ, the one sent by the Father. The present article, divided into three parts, begins with an examination of the negative sense of restlessness, and proposes reading it instead in light of the theological virtues. Since entering into the Father’s eternal rest is made possible for us only through Christ’s obedience, the second part, aided by Maximus the Confessor’s account of Christ’s agony, shows how Christ opens this access in a fully human and fully divine way. This will help us to understand how God’s restless anxiety over man’s salvation may be interpreted. The final section offers an elucidation, with Gregory of Nyssa, of the sense in which a theological anthropology that wishes to offer an adequate account of man’s being might appropriate the positive sense of movement contained in “restlessness.”
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1. John Paul II, Dies Domini, 11–12.
2. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), no. 805; Jean-Luc Nancy, Hegel, The Restlessness of the Negative, trans. Jason Smith and Steven Miller (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).