on the dramatic catholicity of selves :: von Balthasar

“Within the drama of Christ, every human fate is deprivatized so that its personal range may extend to the whole universe, depending on how far it is prepared to cooperate in being inserted into the normative drama of Christ’s life, death and Resurrection. von balthasarNot only does this gather the unimaginable plurality of human destinies into a concrete, universal point of unity: it actually maintains their plurality within the unity, but as a function of this unity. This is the aim of an organic integration of all individual destinites in Christ (Eph 1:3-10), which is simultaneously the commissioning of the organic fullness of vocations and tasks by the organizing center (Eph 4:7-16).”

To von Balthasar’s succinct brilliance, I append a scrawling of my own, a rumination in a similar direction.

In Mary’s “Yes,” God’s Son inhabits the human condition. God bears human nature, not merely as one man, but as a whole. God takes up human self-hood, and thereafter, both self-hood as such and all the particular selves are secured in him. Identity, the unique expression of each self, rests on the Son’s assumption of self-hood and derives from it as a gift of abundance. Therein, it also finds its goal—the creature bearing its peculiar praise to God. God gives creatures their very lives, and in their fullest expression, the most natural form, those lives strain to echo God’s delight as praise. This is not heard as a monotone and hegemonic convergence upon a unison center, but as a great din of voices held together in the common theme of a great hymn.

God’s advent on a dark night in Bethlehem secures the value, the singularity, the meaningfulness, of every created life. Not because every created life thereby bears a commensurate measure of divinity, but because God himself—utterly incommensurate, unparalleled in significance, singular beyond measure—can cry from a rough crib and feed from a human breast. This scene secures the world as we know it as something other than an emanation of Absolute Being, or the incredibly complex Thought pouring forth from Divine Mind. Encountering God in the baby at Bethlehem and in the Galilean wanderer means that my self-hood and yours, and the very “this-ness” of all that is, is willed its independence by God.

Encountering God as the “other” in Jesus secures “other-ness” itself—and makes it a profound gift to creation. God values created identity and created freedom so much that he bears it himself, he inhabits it fully, and makes it real. Truly then, human beings are most themselves when they find their “selves” in the person of Jesus Christ. In that encounter, their identities are secured. In being baptized into Jesus’ death, I give myself up, offer myself wholesale—only to discover that in Christ my-self is oriented rightly, is made whole, and is made more peculiar than I could ever enact on my own. The dreary gray world that drives people to seek a spiritual escape divulges new dimensions and whole new spectrums of color when Jesus Christ is found within it. The conformity and exclusion brokered and reinforced by human knowledge of good and evil are overwhelmed in the Son’s life, and creatures are discovered anew.

Bonhoeffer :: on meeting Jesus

“It is the same temptation for the theologian who tries to encounter Christ and yet to avoid that encounter. Theologians betray him and simulate concern. Christ is still betrayed by the kiss. Wishing to be done with him means always to fall down with the mockers and say, ‘Greetings, Master!’ There are only two ways possible of encountering Jesus: man must die or he must put Jesus to death.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Christ the Center, trans. Edwin H. Robertson (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 35.

Nietzsche on the cross

“Modern men, with their blunted sense for all Christian terminology, no longer feel the gruesome superlative quality that lay for antique taste in the paradoxical formula ‘God on the cross.’ Nowhere and never hitherto has there been a similar boldness of reversal, anything similarly frightful, questioning and questionable, as this formula.”

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Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Marianne Cowan (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1955 – seventh printing 1967), 54.

a new year :: and we are hungry

Sunday marked the beginning of a new year. The church bulletin I referenced a week ago was not so far off the truth as we might initially think—at least liturgically speaking. We have come to the “end of the Church,” and it is time to start over. We have come to the time of year where there is no church, and we wait for the church’s re-birth in the day we come to reenact Mary’s “yes.”

For now, however, we are thrown into the darkness of winter, looking for Jesus to come, looking for some light in the world. Now we wait in the darkness of so many oppressions, looking for that promised messiah whose coming means liberation, and whose life will finally be the blessing to all nations. It is a good time to wait in the darkness and the quiet, to see if God is with us here. It is a good time to go to the empty spaces, the stables and slums of the world, to see if God might be there. It is a good time to feel the emptiness within, and to cry. It is a good time to hold out empty hands, and to stand with those whose hands are empty. It is a good time to be hungry.

This is a good time to go back to the beginning and pay close attention, to piece together the fragments and prophecies that lead us to the Christ who came; it is a good time to piece together the fragments and promises that hold our hope of his return. It is a good time to look for the Son of Man, that rock hewn from the mountain, whose advent will shatter all the hostile powers and restore the image of God among people who have learned well how to treat each other as beasts. It is a good time to remember the startling news of our proclamation. 

With the Church, in the Church, we have come to the end of the Church, and the days of waiting.  

Achan’s stones [part three] :: the unity of revelation

It has been a while, but I am slowly thinking about revelation, divine speech in Scripture, and holy violence by attempting to read Joshua 7, the story of the execution of Achan and his family with a theological lens. Part One and Part Two lie a few weeks back in the queue.

The problem that a text like Joshua 7 presents can be expressed as the tension between three generally heartfelt convictions—a solution wrought by denying any of these beliefs raises bigger problems than are solved. Yet avoiding the conclusion that God commands murder seems to necessitate fudging one of these somewhere:

1. The unity of canonical revelation: “Isn’t the Bible God’s Word? Then why does this passage say that God wants sinners dead, while this other passage says that he loves the whole world?”

2. The unity and faithfulness of the God revealed. “God doesn’t do violence…does he? Does God change drastically in history? Why does he seem bloodthirsty here?”

3. The unity of our own reason and ethics. “Murder is categorically wrong, no matter what…right? Can God simply change the rules on us?”

I’ll try them on one at a time…
Continue reading “Achan’s stones [part three] :: the unity of revelation”

the impossibility of thinking suffering through

The problem of intense and irrational suffering in a world that Christians proclaim as the object of God’s love is a problem that can never be thought through, only thought around. It is a dark mystery which stands as a stumbling block, a choking pain, a stunning blow, to faith, to love, to hope. Yet it never need be a fatal fall.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering because no human answer survives the complexity of suffering and death, all of them fall to the side. Job’s questions are only answered with a jarringly profound statement of God’s presence. His suffering is not answered, but accompanied in a way that elicits wonder and worship. For Job, that is enough.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering any more than one can think oneself through the cross of Christ. At the point of God’s death among us, all human answers simply fail. Here is God’s confrontation with suffering and death at the center of the world (which is to say both nowhere and everywhere). We cannot think through this event because it is either our own death or or our own doing. Either way, the cross is the terminus of human thought about suffering. Continue reading “the impossibility of thinking suffering through”

where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground

C.S. Lewis makes several impassioned pleas for the universality of moral instinct in his writings. I’m most familiar with his appeal to the sense of “fairness” in an argument for God’s existence in Mere Christianity, along with his defence of what he calls the “Tao” in The Abolition of Man. At any rate, in both locations, Lewis is appealing to something like conscience or intuition as the ground of ethics. Ethics are built-in. Right and wrong find their foundation in some innate sense within us. That sense is God’s gift, and is ultimately grounded in God’s own moral character.

Of course, acknowledging the lingering wastes of sin in humanity, Lewis argues that our consciences, as well as our inclination to listen to them, are “bent.” We are not whole and healthy, but twisted and shadowy representations of what we were meant to be.

Working on Bonhoeffer’s moral epistemology, it struck me how different the picture that he describes is. For Bonhoeffer, conscience is only the voice of self-defence. Conscience is the tool by which we usurp God’s judgment, and employ it against ourselves and others. With our consciences–our personal knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)–we alternately declare ourselves righteous and then cast ourselves on to the dung pile. Either way, this is an attempt to shield ourselves from God’s voice rather than God’s voice itself. The natural knowledge of good and evil, is nothing less than captivity to death in Bonhoeffer’s estimation. Continue reading “where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground”