Hope of Meaning

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The Last Judgment, Michelangelo 1537–1541

 

My apologies for the obscurity; these are quite gnomic statements, trying to express ‘intuitions too deep for words’.

1. It is very troubling to me that most theologians live as if they are going to die. That theology is done in light of death, as a theology of the dying people for the dying, not as a theology of the people made new on their way to God’s New Jerusalem.

1.1. In too much of western theology death – not life – is the ultimate boundary, the absolute that defines theology, our thinking of God and humanity. Too much value is diminished by the imminent expectation of death. Too much of our hoping is feeble, vague, inarticulated. For we haven’t understood the cross and the resurrection.

1.2. Too much of theology is done as if we were still in the complete darkness of the night, too much of theology is unable to see the bright Morning Star already shining upon us.

2. Our theology should be defined by the eschatological horizon of His imminent Coming. This eschatological horizon, when kept at sight, instills theology with its proper sense of contingency and providentiality, as a shadow of things to come.

2.1. It is my hypothesis – stemming from my intuition – that, though not visible from every locus of theology, this eschatological horizon – or lack thereof – radically orientates the theology one does.

2.1.1. An Example and a slight deviation: After the Constantinian turn the often noted inability of the Western Christianity to perceive ’the state’ as possibly ’alien’ [cf. Luther’s doctrine of two regimes, German Christians etc.] stems from a failure to identify the eschatological community of God exclusively as the church, that is, the eschatological horizon is not visible, and thus the failure to realize that the whole point of Christ’s life was to show that the Kingdom of God ’is not of this world’, it doesn’t come ’by the sword’ or ’by force’ (i.e. by violence). Yes, God reigns in the whole world, but this reign is through the church which is the marginal, nonviolent counter-cultural community. The church witnesses to God’s Kingdom and reign through sacrifice, martyrdom, service and forgiveness. And though it may not always seem like it now, the nonviolent witness through service is the way by which the church gains victory. For it was the way her Lord gained victory. And in the end, the church will be vindicated. I think it would be a mistake to understand the New Testament’s assertations of the legitimate power of the authorities of the state to be of equal value to that of the church, i.e. of Christ – it is true that the authority of the secular rulers is in some ways affirmed, but not in an eschatological manner, rather as a practical matter that has to do with the ”things of this world” that are passing away.

2.2. Theological truth is, thus, ultimately eschatologically providential. There will be the Day that brings our work into light, the Day when theology is transformed by the visio Dei – when we shall see ‘face to face’.

2.2.1. In many ways, for a theology that has lost its eschatological horizon, certainty is the mirage, the ignis fatuus, that keeps deceiving the pilgrimage people in the desert, pulling us towards itself with an almost irresistible draw, bending our theological pilgrimage towards itself, distorting it, warping our theological ‘systems’ with its gravitational pull. (For we often call this pilgrimage ‘a system’, another sympton of the disease.) Of all things we cannot be entirely and absolutely certain, but we can have faith and hope; we can learn to wait. We can go on.

2.3. His Coming will be the final justification of our theological truths, and also their judgment. This means, that for now, our truths are justified in hope: to the extent that they correspond to God’s future. This relation is not entirely equivocal, although it is not univocal either: wisdom is to understand the nature of analogy in this and courage is to dare to face the question – the futility of our concepts and words. The fact that language does not always grasp and capture. This is the epistemic aspect of analogia spei.

2.4. Expectation of His imminent coming should fill us with a sense of urgency and reality; the theologian can never get too comfortable. The goal of theology is not to build a steady theory of the right religion any more than the goal of Christian life is to be a static system of salvation of souls into heaven. For this world and the things of this world are passing away. This is the eschatological question we cannot wish to elude. The question that calls into question all our questions – the question we must encounter.

3. And yet, we must live as a part of the historical continuum, we must live as if there is going to be a future after us. We have to consider heritage. Our hope is robust and rooted in creation: the things of this world are passing away, away into their transformation.

3.1. This – the eschatological continuity, the eschatological value of things – yields futuristic metaphysics: understanding things in relation to their futures. This is the metaphysical aspect of analogia spei.

3.2. ‘Things in relation to their futures’, analogia spei: we cannot retreat into nihilism. Not even that of the pious kind which abandons this world in favour of a vision of heaven, which refuses to see value.

3.2.1. An example: a younger pastor was telling to another, older one, of his next Sunday’s sermon. He was going to preach about the wonderful joys of earthly, created life – how to cherish the gifts that God has given us and use them to bring glory to Him (for He is our Creator). After listening for a while, the older pastor uttered, straight-faced: “And then you die.” This inability to cherish things that are Given – the givenness of things – is often especially poignant in protestant, Reformed theology. As if creation, value and good were wiped out after the fall, as if there was only the cross, only sin and evil and, then, amazingly, in an empty havoc left by the explosion of ‘No!’, grace. As if grace annihilated nature.

3.2.2. “And then you die.” Memento mori. This is a strange perspective for the children of the Light, for the children of the Day, for the firstfruits of all He created. “Every good and perfect gift comes from the above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.” [Jm. 1.17f.]

3.3. Creaturely principle: life has been created and it is this life that will be redeemed. This creation is the object of God’s redemptive act. This means that things have value simply because they are. Utilitarianism is no companion to love and earthly things are not valuable only in as much as they increase the number of ‘souls’ that will ‘fly into heaven’ after death. Friendship, art, family, play, music, language – all human things, all created things, all valuable in and of themselves, all objects of God’s redemptive act, all worth treasuring and saving.

3.4. So we must love the world.

3.4.1. We must love the world. Not with the pseudo-love of selfish desire which destroys that which it “loves”, but with the life-giving, redemptive love of Christ. We must consider carefully these words [Mt. 24.13]: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”

3.5. For we are saved not into an abstraction, but into life, into this life that was created. The fall does not cancel creation, leaving only a hope of some distant abstraction after death – a spiritualized hope – and us wondering: what, then, of this life?

3.6. The resurrection of the body – a pattern of the whole creation in transformation. ‘For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.’ [1Cr. 15.53]

3.7. All this is simply to say: in eschatology creation and redemption come together. They cannot be separated. No gnostic escapism or detached indifference is available for those who wait for His Coming.

4. The church stands as the sign of God’s new Creation that has begun in Christ, and so our whole existence spreads towards the future through and in Christ. Theology also, then, is an eschatological discipline: its meaning is open, open towards the future.

4.1. This means that we need to inquire into the conditions of eschatological thought: how would it be possible for us, to think about the future? To speak about the future? We need not only to learn to read, think and write, but we need to learn to pray. We must learn to venture into there where there are no words yet.

4.2. Thus we need to understand the nature of prophecy as a sign that points towards the future.

4.2.1. Have you ever experienced a fulfillment of prophecy? In the fulfillment: the strange pattern of continuity and break. The future of God both is and is not what we are expecting. It is more natural, growing from within, more embedded into this world and its reality than we could imagine, more fitting. 

4.2.2. Creaturely principle again, as Pannenberg has pointed out: the Spirit is the future of God already present within us, anticipating the future. And being the same Spirit which was present in creation, the coming of God’s future is not a total, abrupt break in our ’creatureleness’, something ’far-fetched’, though at the same time the fulfillment is something ’other’, not a creaturely initiative.

’What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – -. These are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit.’ [2Cr. 2.6-16]

The Spirit dwelling in us is the first, absolute condition of proper eschatological thought.

4.2.3. The source of disappointment is wishing, guessing – the wrong kind of anticipation. Reality arrives more smoothly, easily, realistically; things come in a manner fitting to their natures. It’s an uncontrolled process in which we participate, we observe: now it happens.

4.2.4.We must learn to sit silently, even in the dark, we must learn to wait – we must learn to hope. Hope is an art that we learn to master through trials and disappointments – learning to hope in this sense is to understand analogia spei.

4.2.5. So we mustn’t fear when are our ideas, wishes, guesses are poured out, we mustn’t fear the silence, the empty canvas. T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday: “Because I do not hope to know again / The infirm glory of the positive hour.”

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.’ [1Cr. 15.36f.]

4.2.6. Our imagination must he purified. Guessing – work of a mind too eager to go there where it can not be – is of no help. You can not guess, but you may sense it. Guessing, trying to match the patterns of mystery with our own images – we must let go of those childish images. ‘When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.’

4.2.7. T.S. Eliot, in East Coker: “I said to my sould, be still and waith without hope / For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love / For love would be love for the wrong thing; there is yet faith / But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. / Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: / So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” (East Coker) And in Little Gidding: “And what you though you came for / Is only a shell, a husk of meaning / From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled / If at all. Either you had no purpose / or the purpose is beyond the end you figured / And is altered in fulfilment. – – / You would have to put off / Sense and notion. You are not here to verify / Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report. You are here to kneel / Where prayer has been valid.” In many ways, analogy is just another word for mystery.

4.2.8. An Exercise in Hope

4.3. So we need to learn to live – meaning is realized in life. Theology is concrete, embedded work of hope – we must become craftsmen of hope.

4.4. The subjective corollary of the larger eschatological openness of meaning towards God’s future, is the openness of meaning towards experience: meaning is never ‘fixed’. However, it doesn’t so much change as it expands, perhaps infinitely. Meaning unfolds with experience, returning and approaching. Returning: to its original source in the Revelation. Approaching: coming ever-closer to the truth of its source. This is the ever tightening ‘hermeneutical spiral’ of theology. This is the craft of theology, the art of hope – the methodological implications of analogia spei.

4.4.1. ‘Wisdom is to understand the nature of analogy in this’: formation, sanctification, life – the openness of meaning in which we grasp analogy, we grasp the nature of our language, the possibility of our truths. To say ‘analogy‘ is not thus to announce a tie between language and reality, analogy is not static, nor does it need to be “a fully armored technical term” (to paraphrase Sonderegger*). Analogy is constant openness: discernment and contemplation, ‘reflection as in a mirror’.  As we become wiser – more holy – we shall see more, we shall approach the truth.

‘Bless are poor in heart, for they shall see God.’ ‘And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ [Mt. 5.8, 2Cr. 3.18]

4.4.2. Thus, for example, the sentence p (such as, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”) can have such a living and deep meaning that it cannot be comprehended at once or ‘permanently possessed’. The meaning of p unfolds through one’s experience: prayer, personal history, reflection, reading, trouble, encounters with others, art, loving, sanctification, writing, travelling; you name it. For embodied epistemic agents meaning is a historical process. Meaning is a living thing. The question then is: how should we live in order to grasp the right meaning?

4.4.3. T.S. Eliot (East Coker, again): “As we grow older / The World becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated / Of dead and living. Not the intense moment / Isolated, with no before and after / But a lifetime burning in every moment / And not the lifetime of one man only / But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.” And then, in The Dry Salvages: “For most of us, there is only the unattended / Moment, the moment in and out of time / The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight / The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning / Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses / Hints followed by guesses; and the rest / Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.”

4.4.4. This is to say that the meaning – the subtle difference – is often manifested on the fringes rather than at the core (this also relates to the hypothesis about the eschatological horizon in 2.1). When we look at the edges of doctrine we can sense its meaning. The fringe, the edge of doctrine is praxis, intuition, personality, doxology – something that is not about the doctrine itself explicitly, but reveals its true meaning. The core is a verbal statement. We often say what we mean when we don’t mean to say it.

An example: a pastor reveals something very essential about his understanding of the nature of God as he talks about the way he raises his children, that is, by offering a theological justification for use of violence (i.e. spanking) as a child-rearing method. Praxis makes meaning visible.

4.4.5. That is, ad hominem -arguments shouldn’t be entirely dismissed in theology – wisdom, discernment and care can salvage ad hominem as a tool for revealing meaning.

4.5. However, this is not process theology: already/not yet – this is the eschatological tension that will not be eased by history. Truth is not a historical process, revelation is not ever unfolding in time, chronologically and partially revealed. Creaturely epistemology does not transfer into metaphysics so easily. Truth is at once, for it is God Himself, His presence. Eschatological providentiality is not the same as an unfolding historical process, precisely because it is eschatological and apocalyptic. Nor does the openness of meaning simply mean ‘progress’. The tension remains and is not eased by history, but only in the apocalyptic (and ontological) moment of His Coming.

4.5.1. T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding: “With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling // We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

4.6. Katherine Sonderegger (Systematic Theology, the Doctrine of God, p.125, 129f.): “God is known in creation, His very own reality disclosed in the words of His creatures: that is the theological compatibilism – -. God alone can be at once compatible with and distinct from the creaturely virtues, powers, and life He has made. Just this is the Mystery, the measureless Mystery of the One God, hidden in His own world. – – He is free in our knowledge of Him, just because He alone can be present in such a way that we securely know Him, and know that in His stooping down into and through our language, our hopes and ideals and longings, He remains infinitely beyond all that.” This is the “gracious pattern of identity and distinction” at the heart of dynamic understanding of analogy.

4.7. Hope of Meaning, then: that He will come and make our words live, establish them in the reality of His own being. That His Light shall swallow up our little lights, life shall be swallowed up by Life – than our finite concepts are taken up into His infinite life. He is the Hope of Meaning.

 

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease: where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass way. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when the completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1Cr. 13.8-end

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

1Cr. 3.10-13


On the use of T.S. Eliot’s poem Four Quartets in this post: I do not, of course, agree with all of T.S. Eliot’s theological insights, but I do enjoy his poetry and I  wanted to add some passages from him into these reflections to stimulate your thinking and my own.

* For Sonderegger’s account of the nature of analogy see her Systematic Theology part 1 (The Doctrine of God), p. 201ff.

The examples used are based on public comments made by actual, even rather well-known, theologians. However, the point I’m trying to make is made abundantly clear without revealing who these individuals are and thus, for the sake of respect and peace (and in order to keep the focus on my actual argument), I decided not to disclose the identity of these theologians.

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Faithful Discourse

Caravaggio: Supper at Emmaus (1606)
Supper at Emmaus (1606), Caravaggio

Sometimes, when I listen, I am astonished by the sheer act of communication. Other minds, souls, speak out of the depths of their inner life which remains forever hidden for everyone not-them. They speak out of the unfathomable depths of their experience, knowledge and memory. The weight of this is almost incomprehensible: these who speak, they are souls, their inner life, with all its contents, as real as mine. There is a whole world of understanding, of concept and relations, images and metaphors, memories and experiences, connections and quirks, that is entirely unknown to me. An Other Mind.

And out of that depth language emerges. It is the narrow path, the thin channel, the bridge – the hanging bridge – above the chasm. These sentences, words, delicate figures. Shapes and shadows of things unseen. These tools, worn in use, rickety limbs trying to reach out. Souvenires from a country I’ve never visited, the boundary line I shall never cross, the remains of conscientiousness. Language.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate – but there is no competition –
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

T.S. Eliot (the Four Quartets)

And yet we seem to be able to express ourselves. We manage to communicate our innermost feelings and experiences, at least to some extent. Where words run out, we use other languages, such as art. Despite it being often difficult, even raw and painful, we want to communicate our selves – the ‘I’ longs to become visible to the otherAnd it is one’s experience, that it can happen.

I don’t know whether postmodernism is to blame, but nowadays this conviction seems to be questioned: many say that language is but a power-play, serving the interests of whoever happens to be speaking, rendering truth trivial in the process. That it is, if not impossible, at least extremely difficult to break the interior of our subjectiveness and truly speak to and about the other. That, perhaps, all we ever do is speak about ourselves: reference is challenged, meaning remains forever open and all narratives are but social constructions. Aesthetics triumph over truth and relativism reigns. Or so they say.

But beauty without truth is no beauty. And so we must ask about our language and its redemption, that is, about the relationship between truth and language, truth and abstraction. For ultimately it is the Truth Himself that redeems our language, this ‘shabby equipment, always deteriorating’. It is because of this Hope that our language has that we should not ask about the impossibility of language, but about the joyful possibility of it.

 

The Possibility of Language

We may trust joyfully that we can speak of God – but that is only the first side of the mystery. For sometimes I feel like theological language is almost haunted by its object, the Living Subject; the burning fire in the middle, the heavy presence, calling into question our sophisticated systems. To speak of God – the Infinite Mystery, Being like no other – can never be too comfortable. In theology language is always strained. One must learn to speak there where it becomes its own contradiction, on the brink of annihilation. “Finitum non capax infiniti.”

And yet grace: in the free act of God creaturely realities can, in fact, capax infiniti, though only finitely. Infinite, precisely because it is infinite, can accommodate finite realities. It is divine condescension that does not endanger God’s freedom or aseity, but celebrates it. Thus, the theologian can never get comfortable but she may trust in Him. He who is faithful sustains and justifies our language by His own presence. He is committed – this is the constancy of human expression of truth – to our expressions. He humbles Himself to become an object of our knowledge. Thus, faith is the first mysterious relief of language; language is redeemed through faith.

For faith is an entrance: it takes us into the mystery, into the reality of God. Into the unexplainable and ineffable. And when it comes to that Mystery, language is the sacrifice we sometimes have to make. We must yield to expression, for we can not wish to escape it, we can not wish to elude concepts. “Those things we can not say, we must say in a different way.” Theological language is thus dependent on God’s mercy and presence, it lives through faith and by grace alone. And yet, it is not arbitrary, the reference is not lost – for the God who sustains is a faithful Creator. Faith is thus that which can attest to the mystery, unity and complexity of the Word and Creation, revelation and reality. Thus faithful discourse can speak of that which is not language, not an abstraction, but reality.

So then, our language lives through faith; theology must be a faithful discourse, a conversation that is coram Deo, where God is present through faith. Through the faithfulness of God it becomes possible for theology to be faithful to its object – God and His revelation. He sustains our language, He guides it: that is the providentia of human expression. And He sustains faithfully – through divine faithfulness that is not located merely within the will, but within His very being. The faithfulness of God is the consistency of His being – His utterly Unique Being, Simplicity and Oneness. For to locate God’s faithfulness merely in His decision (voluntas) to keep His promise would be to beg the question and undo the whole concept of faithfulness. Thus the meaning that is through the faithfulness of God is not voluntaristic: our reference is not lost arbitrarily, it cannot cease whimsically. And yet God remains utterly free. This is the mystery of language – for I’m weary of the word ‘paradox’ which seems to suggest some kind of unity of two contradictions, ‘a possible impossibility’, a confusion on the human side of things, which is not what this is. This is, rather, the mystery of His commitment to us, the mystery of His Love; in the act of creation and promise, God in His freedom commits Himself to His creation. It is His mercy and love: we may speak of Him. Our language has been justified, sanctified to carry the yoke of truth.

Thus Sonderegger: “Almighty God hides Himself in our world in His Humility, gracing this cosmos with His silent Truth and Glory. This lowly Objectivity, laid down in our earth, is never without its Subjectivity.” His ‘lowly Objectivity’: language made possible. His holy ‘Subjectivity’: language at the brink of its own annihilation. This is the tension, the mystery by which we must learn to abide, the strangeness of faith. Our words can reach this Free, Humble and Holy God in His very Aseity, for He that’s what He is, just that is the mystery of His compatibilism with His creation; this is the – to some ears, radical – conviction put forward by Sonderegger. Perhaps following Sonderegger, we might want to give a little more dignity to the Objective than would, for example, some kind of Barthian version of analogia fidei. God is able to retain to His freedom and yet become an Object, a steady Object, for our knowledge of Him, for our language.

And so also, in an act of faithful commitment, the Word became flesh. He becomes the reference point of all our language, the center through which our words must travel. The Radiance of God’s Glory, the exact representation of His Being. Our wisdom and sanctification. Before and after this Particular there may be knowledge of other kind, another kind of analogies – sensus divinitas – but in order to truly be redeemed and justified knowledge our language must live through Him, through faith in Him. Perhaps here the much debated notion of analogia fidei would have its fitting place, having its proper – that is, soteriological – origins in Christology, but opening up towards the creation in a holistic manner. Faith – which is through the Son and in the Spirit – is the gift, the light, which opens our eyes – blinded by sin – to see the reality as it is graced with God’s own presence, as created reality, which as such can communicate God’s own perfections (to paraphrase Sonderegger). Creation can – this world can – yield genuine knowledge of God.For He promises us (Jh. 7.38): “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will from within them.” And by that He meant the Spirit, the Spirit who creates faith and sustains it.

 

Quarrelling About Words

Intuitively it has, for some time already, seemed a strange thought to me that God would have opinions. That He would be holding, within some infinite storehouse of His ‘mind’, all the correct propositions, ready deliver the answers to all our human questions, were we just able to encounter Him directly and ask. That God would ‘take sides’, in this sense, in our human debates and arguments, in our painstakingly pedantic fussing over some theological nitty-gritty. In fact I often doubt whether most of our ‘theological’ problems are really just human problems, generated by the magnificent complexity of our conceptual schemes: whether they are mere language. And so, although this might sound controversial for a theologian to claim, I seriously doubt whether God has an opinion to our debates over baptism or the proper meaning of Eucharist, for example.

This is not to travel down the slippery slope into relativism, however, for certainly God is Truth and Knowledge, and certainly there are some boundaries that must not be crossed. Rather I’m inclined to somewhat agree with Sonderegger: “God is Knowledge itself, perfect Intelligibility and Insight such that He in His very Being is not simply a storehouse of every particular and all universals, but rather the very life, the very heart and veins, the very taste of each living thing, in its own manner, in its own indelible mark as this very one.” He is the Knowledge of our knowing, illuminating us and our capabilities. God’s knowledge is not simply a synthesis or negation of our knowledge: He transcends our knowledge.

Thus, without going into too much into detail here, I would say that all this relates to truth-likeness and conceptual relativity, which are highly technical notions that I will perhaps elucidate later in another post, but in this post – and the posts to come, concerning hope and love – the corresponding Biblical idioms will do: our human concepts and truths are essentially justified through faith, in hope and by love. That is, especially in ambiguous cases, it is the attitude of our hearts that justifies our truths, not necessarily some relation they might bear to some ideal proposition that God holds in His ‘mind’, for God’s Knowledge is not of that kind.

Thus, in the middle of our often all too human conversations, debates and arguments, there can flow the River of Living Water. Through faith in Him our reference is secured: He who is Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth makes our world sensible and our words intelligible by illuminating our minds. He is the Radiant Fire in the middle. And it is through faith that we enter that light, and thus through prayer. Essentially then theology can be ‘in the right’ only by orienting itself towards this Reality of God in prayer, worship and petition. The task of theology is to be faithful discourse – faithful to this  Presence of the Holy One in our midst. Hence the end and the proper goal of theological language is not to build conceptual cathedrals in which we may rest, no longer bothered by this consuming Presence, but doxology, and perhaps at last, the ineffable, silent mystery of faith.

And so James warns us (3.6): “The tongue is also a great fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Whoever wishes to speak of God – to be a theologian, essentially – must walk the narrow line, near the edge, close to the danger, between the warning and the promise.

So then, this now for the justification of our knowledge through faith. Through faith our knowledge also opens up towards the future – that is the dimension of hope. Thus language is not only redeemed through faith, but also in hope. That’ll be the topic of my next post: the Hope of Meaning.

______________

  1. This means something also for theological epistemology: theology must grow out of the soil of this land we inhabit. This thus relates to the relation between revelation and reality/creation, the two components of our knowledge of God, which faith brings back to their essential and original unity in love (ethics, analogia entis) and in hope (analogia spei), our knowledge thus being eschatological, a pilgrim’s wisdom, still waiting for its final (thought not static) realization – visio Dei. I have made some preliminary remarks on this earlier (in II,2).

Suvaitsevaisuus: ongelmista ja minimalistisen käsitteen mahdollisuuksista

Olli Pekka-Vainio kirjoitti joitakin vuosia sitten erinomaisen artikkelin suvaitsevaisuuden vaikeudesta (Postmoderni filosofia, kulttuuri ja kristillinen teologia, STKS.J 276. 2013). Hän määrittelee suvaitsevaisuuden seuraavasti: “Suvaitsevaisuus on tietoista pidättäytymistä puuttua asiaan kieltämällä, estämällä, pakottamalla tai muulla tapaa puuttumalla sellaiseen toimintaan, jota ei hyväksytä, vaikka keinot tällaiseen puuttumiseen olisivat olemassa.” Vainion mukaan suvaitsevaisuuteen siis edellyttää seuraavien kriteerien täyttymistä: (1) aito erimielisyys, (2) keinot puuttua asiaan, (3), tietoinen päätös olla puuttumatta asiaan. Myöhemmän analyysin perusteella hän lisää vielä seuraavat edellytykset: (4) halu säilyttää kriittinen asenne ja ryhtyminen julkiseen keskusteluun, (5) keskustelun ja dialogin täytyy ilmentää älyllisiä hyveitä.

Tämän määritelmän pohjalta Vainio lähtee pohtimaan suvaitsevaisuuden vaikeutta – onko aito suvaitsevaisuus näin määriteltynä se, mitä suvaitsevaisuudella yleisesti tarkoitetaan ja onko se edes mahdollista? Vainio tuntuu itse päätyvän siihen, että yhteiskunnallisessa diskurssissa suvaitsevaisuus voitaisiin pitkälti hyvin korvata älyllisillä hyveillä (kuten nöyryys, kärsivällisyys, tarkkuus, viisaus, herkkyys yksityiskohdille, hyväntahtoisuus ja niin edelleen). Älylliset hyveet voisivat toimia jonkinlaisena jaettuna pohjana keskustelulle, vaikka eivät soisikaan suoraa vastausta siihen, mitä tulee suvaita ja mitä ei. Ne voisivat “auttaa meitä näkemään ne keinot, joiden avulla voimme päättää mitä suvaitsemme ja mitä emme”.

Seuraten Vainion linjoilla – kuitenkaan hänen ajatuksiaan omiini samaistamatta – argumentoisin, että suvaitsevaisuus ei voi olla hyve tai asia, joka olisi itsessään tavoittelemisen arvoista. Suvaitsevaisuudella voi kuitenkin olla jokin rooli tai merkitys äärimmäisissä rajatapauksissa. Teesini on siten seuraava: suvaitsevaisuus on sietämistä, joka tapahtuu rajalla – silloin kun kaikki hyveet on kulutettu loppuun. Se on luonteeltaan minimalistinen käsite: negatiivinen, puhdas relaatio. Toisin sanoen, se on tietynlaista suhtautumista erilaisuuteen ääritilanteessa, jonka ainut päämäärä on totalitarismin välttäminen ja rauhan säilyttäminen erilaisten yhteiskuntaryhmien välillä pluralistisessa yhteiskunnassa. Laajempaa suvaitsevaisuuden käsitettä ei tarvita, sillä sen suomat hyödyt voidaan saavuttaa älyllisten hyveiden kautta. Lisäksi, mikäli suvaitsevaisuus laajennetaan johonkin muuhun tarkoitukseen – jonkinlaiseksi yleiseksi periaatteeksi, absoluuttiseksi hyveeksi tai korkeimmaksi hyväksi – se uhkaa kääntyä itsensä ristiriidaksi ja vallankäytön välineeksi.

En välttämättä vastusta suvaitsevaisuutta niin kuin esimerkiksi Vainio sen määrittelee, mutta esitän tässä esseessä syitä sille, miksi suvaitsevaisuus tulisi enemmin ymmärtää mahdollisimman minimaalisesti puhtaana relaationa. Lisäksi, vaikka hyväksyisimmekin Vainion määritelmän, itse ongelma ei poistuisi:  ongelmahan on, että se, miten ‘suvaitsevaisuutta’ käytetään tällä hetkellä yhteiskunnallisessa keskustelussa ei vastaa Vainion määritelmää. Kutsutan tätä Vainion määritelmästä poikkeavaa yleisesti esiintyvää suvaitsevaisuutta pseudo-suvaitsevaisuudeksi. Pseudo-suvaitsevaisuuden ongelma on se, että se lähtee vääristä lähtökohdista: sen proton pseudos on olettama, että suvaitsevaisuus on hyve, joka on itsessään tavoittelemisen arvoinen eikä sille suoda sitä minimaalista “raja-arvoista roolia”, joka käsitteelle kuuluisi.

Mitä ongelmia pseudo-suvaitsevaisuuteen sitten liittyy? Siitä huolimatta, että itse argumentoin minimalistisemman käsitteen puolesta, otan suuntaa Vainion määritelmästä: mielestäni pseudo-suvaitsevaisuuden suurimmat ongelmat liittyvät suvaitsevaisuuden määritelmän kohtiin (1) ja (4). Ensinnäkin suvaitsevaisuus edellyttää aitoa erimielisyyttä. Se vaatii toisin sanoen aitoa toiseutta ja sen todellista kohtaamista. Vainio nostaa esille tietynlaisen “post-nietzscheläisen” todellisuuskäsityksen, joka “pyrkii poistamaan jännitteen ja kilpailun eri näkökulmien välillä” auttamatta meitä kuitenkaan arvostamaan mitään näkökulmaa sinänsä. Ja näin, “toiseus, jota olisi pitänyt vaalia, katoaa hahmottomaan massaan”. Vainio myös huomauttaa, että toisin kuin hyveet yleensä, suvaitsevaisuus on jotakin, mitä mielellään sovelletaan itseen: siinä missä oman nöyryyden korostaminen voisi näyttäytyä kontraversaalina asiana,  oman suvaitsevaisuuden korostaminen ei ole vastaavalla tavalla kontraversaalia. “Syy tähän voi olla se, että monissa tapauksissa suvaitsevaisuus on niin helppoa eikä se vaadi juuri mitään ponnisteluja – -.”

Hyväksi periaatteeksi tulisikin mielestäni ottaa, että vain pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus on helppoa. Todellinen suvaitsevaisuus – juuri aidon erimielisyyden tähden – edellyttää todellista rajaa, todellista erilaisuutta ja sen aitoa kohtaamista. Suvaitsevaisuus, määritelmällisesti, on vaikeaa, sillä juuri aito erimielisyys pakottaa meidät suvaitsevaisiksi. ‘Puhtainta’ suvaitsevaisuus on silloin kun kaikki muut hyveet ovat loppuneet: suvaitsevaisuus on näin se viimeinen rajapyykki, joka estää meitä yrittämästä annihiloida tai alistaa eri tavoin ajattelevat. Se on sietämistä. Rajaa lähestyessä – silloin kun erilaisuuden kohtaaminen on vähemmän äärimmäistä – suvaitsevaisuus voi esiintyä kietoutuneena muihin hyveisiin, “epäpuhtaassa” muodossa. Suvaitsevaisuus ei ole helppoa tai mukavaa eikä sen pitäisi täyttää meitä omahyväisyydellä (sillä suvaitsevaisuuden välttämättömyyshän on merkki siitä, että olemme ainakin jossain määrin epäonnistuneet hyveellisyydessä). Todellisuudessa suvaitsevaisuus on suorastaan tuskallista, hermoja raastavan vaikeaa.

Vastoin tätä pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus on helppoa ja esiintyy usein samanmielisten joukossa. Pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus on siis tässä suhteessa usein käytössä tavalla, joka on aidon suvaitsevaisuuden vastakohta; sitä käytetään ilmaisemaan halveksuntaa ja suvaitsemattomuutta. Vainio: “Suvaitsevaisuus-dirskurssilla vahvistetaan oman ryhmän identiteettiä ja pyritään alistamaan tai äärimmillään tuhoamaan toinen. Vaikka se päältäpäin esiintyy moraalisena ja hyveellisenä, se on todellisuudessa hienostunut väkivallan muoto. Kunkin yhteiskunnan suuri kertomus tarvitsee aina rajatun määrän vastakertomuksia, joista vastustamalla se oikeuttaa oman olemassaolonsa. Tämä oikeuttaminen voi tapahtua halveksuntasuvaitsevaisuusdiskurssin avulla – -.” Toisin sanoen: yhteiskunnassa on aina sokeita pisteitä – asioita ja ihmisryhmiä, joita ei suvaita.

Aito suvaitsevaisuus on siten jotakin olemukseltaan negatiivista (eikä senkään vuoksi voi olla hyve); se on tekemättä jättämistä, puuttumattomuutta. Näin ollen suvaitsevaisuus joutuu sietämään jännitteitä ja epämukavuutta: todellisen toiseuden läsnäoloa. Yhteiskunnallisessa keskustelussamme tällä hetkellä suvaitsevaisuus tunnutaan enemminkin ymmärtävän tämän negatiivisen luonteensa sijaan jonakin positiivisena: se ei ole vain puhdas relaatio (i.e. suhtautumista toiseuteen), vaan joukko oikeita näkemyksiä, joita pidetään ‘suvaitsevaisena’. Se on tietyn viiteryhmän omaisuutta, jolle suodaan siten positiivista sisältöä: pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus ei ole relaatio, vaan tietynlainen maailmankuva.

Tästä seuraa seuraavanlainen virhepäätelmä, joka luonnehtii pseudo-suvaitsevaisuuden olemusta:

P1 Ihmiset, jotka hyväksyvät asiat x, y ja z ovat suvaitsevaisia.

P2 Ne, jotka eivät hyväksy asioita x, y ja z ovat suvaitsemattomia.

P3 Suvaitsemattomuutta ei tarvitse sietää.

Niitä, jotka eivät hyväksy asioita x, y ja z ei tarvitse sietää.

Usein tähän lisätään vielä käsitys ryhmäidentiteetistä: “Meidän ryhmämme A on suvaitsevaisempi kuin ryhmä B, joten olemme myös B:tä parempia.” Sillä suvaitsevaisuus on hyvän ihmisen ominaisuus, hyve; ryhmän A jäsenet ovat parempia kuin ryhmän B jäsenet ja ryhmä B on A:ta huonompi. Olen huomannut, että nykyisin juuri tästä on kysymys kun esimerkiksi kristityltä kysytään mielipidettä johonkin kontraversaaliin yhteiskunnalliseen kysymykseen: halutaan tietää onko hän ‘suvaitsevainen’, onko hänellä oikeat mielipiteet ja onko hän siten ‘hyvä ihminen’ ja osa toivottua viiteryhmää. Erilaisuutta kohdatessaan pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus siis joko suhtautuu siihen epäsuvaitsevaisesti tai pyrkii laukaisemaan jännitteen luisumalla joko ‘hyväksyntään tai unohtamiseen’ (Vainio). Näin ollen pseudo-suvaitsevaisuudessa todellinen suvaitsevaisuus ei ole mahdollista, sillä mitään aitoa toiseuden kohtaamista ei tapahdu. Aito suvaitsevaisuus edellyttää erimielisyyttä: sellaista, minkä hyväksyy, ei voi suvaita. Toisin kuin populaari pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus, aito suvaitsevaisuus siten edellyttää ‘tuomitsemista’ tai ‘arvioimista’: et voi olla eri mieltä asiasta, johon sinulla ei ole mitään mielipidettä. Pahimmillaan pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus on näennäisesti hyveellinen nimitys positiolle, jota voisi luonnehti seuraavasti: hyväksyn kaiken, paitsi sen, mitä en hyväksy. Ja tämähän ei todellisuudessa ole mikään hyve.

Näin ollen suvaitsevaisuus, määritelmällisesti, ei voi olla jotakin positiivista. Todellinen suvaitsevaisuus on puhdas relaatio: se nousee esiin vain tietynlaisessa rajalla tapahtuvassa toiseuden kohtaamisessa. Sitä ei voi omistaa jatkuvana ominaisuutena eikä sitä voi käyttää adjektiivina: mikään ihminen tai asia ei voi ‘olla suvaitsevainen’. Sillä suvaitsevaisuus ei ole koskaan adjektiivi tai attribuutti, vaan pelkästään relaatio, joka esiintyy tietyssä tilanteessa. Se on siten sidottu todelliseen kohtaamiseen: se ei asu omana abstraktionaan ajan ja paikan yläpuolella, vaan on sidottu aikaan ja paikkaan, todellisten ihmisten todellisiin näkemyksiin ja suhteisiin. Tämä tarkoittaa, että suvaitsevaisuus on aina ihmisten välinen relaatio: se ei voi olla jotakin, mitä esimerkiksi valtio tekee (kts. alla).

Toiseksi, pseudo-suvaitsevaisuuden ongelma on, että se tekee keskustelun, jos ei mahdottomaksi, niin ainakin hyvin vaikeaksi. Mielestäni Frank Furedi on tavoittanut jotakin oleellista siitä, miten pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus toimii yhteiskunnallisen keskustelun estäjänä. Vainio luonnehtii hänen ajatustaan seuraavasti: “Jos aikaisemmin suvaitsevaisuuden idea oli mahdollistaa erilaisten vahvojen identiteettien oikeus esittää julkisesti omia, myös hyvin epäsuosittuja, mielipiteitään, nyt suvaitsevaisuudelle tarkoitetaan pyrkimystä suojella erilaisia identiteettejä kritiikiltä. Suvaitsevaisuus, jonka tarkoitus oli mahdollistaa julkinen keskustelu ja kritiikki on tavallaan kääntynyt vastakohdakseen. Toiminnan keskipisteessä ei ole enää yksilö, jonka oletetaan muodostavan perusteltuja katoja ja kritiikkejä, vaan valtio, joka säätää lakeja, joiden tarkoitus on suojella erilaisia identiteettejä kritiikiltä. Seurauksena on jännitteinen tilanne, jossa kaikkien oletetaan ‘selebroivan’ erilaisia identiteettejä ja pitävän niitä sellaisinaan hyvinä, mutta samalla niistä ei voida käydä julkista keskustelua, koska tämä saattaisi luoda identiteetin kannalta ‘vihamielisen ympäristön’ eivätkä nämä identiteetit myöskään voi julkisesti käyttää omaa ääntään.”

Pseudo-suvaitsevaisuus, joka ei kykene aitoon toiseuden kohtaamiseen ei myöskään kykene todelliseen keskusteluun, sillä jos mitään aitoa erimielisyyttä ei ole, ei myöskään voi olla aitoa neuvottelua, väittelyä ja keskustelua. Aito suvaitsevaisuus on jatkuvasti liikkeessä, rajat liikkuvat, tulevat uudelleen neuvotelluiksi. Hyveet ovat yhteiskunnallisen keskustelun perusedellytys, mutta keskustelun jatkuvuuden viimeinen takaaja on kykymme olla suvaitsevaisia: kykymme käydä rationaalista keskustelua silloinkin kun pidämme vastapuolen näkemyksiä typerinä, takapajuisina tai sopimattomina.

Siispä tavoitteellista olisi edetä sietämisestä neutraaliuteen, neutraaliudesta ystävällisyyteen, ystävällisyydestä rakkauteen: negatiivisesta positiiviseen, suvaitsevaisuudesta hyveisiin. Millään tästä ei ole mitään olemuksellista yhteyttä samanmielisyyteen, hyväksyntään tai pitämiseen yhteiskunnallisella tasolla. Kun siten tässä yhteydessä puhun rakkaudesta en välttämättä puhu rakkauden siitä muodosta, johon Uusi testamentti joskus viittaa veljellisenä rakkautena, joka sisällyttää itseensä samanmielisyyden, hyväksynnän ja pitämisen. Rakkauskin on relaatio (vaikkakin eri tavoin kuin suvaitsevaisuus; ei yhtä puhtaasti, vaan pitemminkin rakkaudessa sekoittuvat toisiinsa objektiviinen ja subjektiivinen, relaatio ja oleminen) ja saa siten eri konteksteissa eri muotoja. Rakkaus on mahdollista silloinkin kun emme hyväksy jotakin toisen näkemystä, kun emme kykene olemaan samanmielisiä, vaan joudumme tunnustamaan aidon, rationaalisen erimielisyyden.

On siis tärkeää huomata, että suvaitsevaisuuden minimalistista määritelmää ei pidä sekoittaa siihen ettemme saisi normaalissa tilanteessa omata eriäviä näkemyksiä. Tavoitteena ei ole välttämättä samanmielisyys; raja ei ole ainut paikka, jossa kohtaamme erilaisuutta eikä suvaitsevaisuus ole erilaisuuden ainut areena, ei ainut relaatio, joka meillä pitäisi olla suhteessa toiseuteen. Päinvastoin, minimalistisen suvaitsevaisuuden perusajatus on nimenomaan se, että hyveellinen erimielisyys on mahdollista ja tavoiteltavampaa kuin suvaitsevainen erimielisyys. Erimielisyyttä tulisi aina ensin määrittää hyveet ja rakkaus, ei suvaitsevaisuus. Suvaitsevaisuus nousee esiin relaationa silloin kun kohtaamme äärimmäisen rajan eli niin äärimmäistä erilaisuutta, että mitkään hyveet eivät enää ole mahdollisia tai ainakin ne on venytetty äärirajoilleen. Jos ymmärrämme kaiken erilaisuuden suvaitsevaisuudesta käsin emme kykene koskaan todella ymmärtämään erilaisuutta ja alamme liukua kohti jonkinlaista pseudo-suvaitsevaisuutta.

Kenties tätä eroa ‘hyveellisen erimielisyyden’ ja ‘suvaitsevaisen erimielisyyden’ välillä voisi lähestyä suvaitsevaiseminen/tunnustaminen -erottelun kautta (tolerance/recognition). Jotkut ovat argumentoineet, että suvaitsevaisuus käsitteenä tulisi itse asiassa kokonaan korvata tunnustamisen käsitteellä, sillä suvaitsevaisuus olemuksellisesti sisällyttää itsensä ajatuksen toisen näkemysten tuomitsemista/arvioimisesta negatiivisessa valossa ja on siten aina jossain määrin epäeettistä. On myös esitetty, että yhteiskunnallisen keskustelun siirryttyä yleisistä oikeuksista enemminkin erilaisten vähemmistöjen identiteettien merkityksiin, tunnustaminen on käsite, joka sopii suvaitsemista paremmin nykyaikaan. Olen samaa mieltä siitä, että suvaitsevaisuus edellyttää juuri tätä ‘tuomitsemista’, mutta sitä ei silti tule korvata tunnustamisen käsitteellä: suvaitsevaisuus, joka korvataan tunnustamisen käsitteellä on juurikin sitä pseudo-suvaitsevaisuutta, josta mielestäni tulisi luopua. Samalla suvaitsevaisuus ei kuitenkaan voi myöskään korvata hyveellistä erimielisyyttä. (Kts. Vainion ja Visalan artikkeli aiheesta). Kenties kirjoitan joskus vielä toisen tekstin tunnustamisen, hyveellisen erimielisyyden ja suvaitsevaisuuden välisistä suhteista ja niihin liittyvistä ongelmista.

Mutta entä sitten ‘hyvän suvaitsemattomuuden’ mahdollisuus? Onhan varmasti niin, että jotkut rajat ovat liian äärimmäisiä – että on olemassa erilaisuutta, jota ei tarvitse sietää? Esittäisin, että näissä tilanteissa asia siirtyy kokonaan pois suvaitsevaisuusdiskurssin alueelta; emme enää puhu äärimmäisistä rajoista, vaan absoluuttisista rajoista. Niistä, jotka sulkevat ulkopuolelle; absoluuttisen rajan ylittäminen tarkoittaa siirtymistä pois validin yhteiskunnallisen diskurssin alueelta. Selventääksemme yhteiskunnallista keskustelua meidän ei pitäisi puhua suvaitsevaisuudesta/suvaitsemattomuudesta kun puhumme absoluuttisten rajojen vetämisestä. Meidän ei ehkä tulisi kysyä: mitä meidän tulisi suvaita? Tämä jättää Pandorran lippaan auki juuri niihin ongelmiin, joita minimalistisella suvaitsevaisuuden käsitteellä on yritetty välttää: oikeutetun suvaitsevaisuuden erottaminen epäoikeutetusta mielipiteen tukahduttamisesta (jne.). Ei, suvaitsevaisuuden rajat – absoluuttinen raja – tulevat käsitteen itsensä ulkopuolelta. Konkreettisesti ajateltuna absoluuttinen raja on laki ja se, mikä erottaa suvaitsevaisuuden relaationa “suvaitsemattomuudesta” on vallankäyttö, estäminen.

Mutta mistä? Onko olemassa jotakin aidosti absoluuttista rajaa, joka voidaan piirtää sen välille, mitä tulee hyväksyä ja sen välille, mitä ei? Absoluuttisista rajoista voidaan puhua kahdessa merkityksessä: (1) objektiivisesti absoluuttinen raja oikean ja väärän välillä, (2) reaalinen tai ‘sovittu’ absoluuttinen raja, joka toimii yhteiskunnallisella tasolla ja määritellään validin yhteiskunnallisen diskurssin kautta. Kun puhumme absoluuttisesta rajasta yhteiskunnallisen diskurssin kontekstissa puhumme nimenomaan jälkimmäisestä. Puhumme siis absoluuttisista rajoista, jotka ovat – ehkä paradoksaalisesti – kontingentteja, liikkuvia ja yhdessä sovittuja; neuvottelun tulos. Tämä raja piirretään pluralistisessa asetelmassa, jossa ei välttämättä ole mitään jaettua arvopohjaa, paitsi ehkä seuraava minimalistinen periaate, joka ilmaisee rajojen vetämisen tarkoituksen: totalitarismin välttäminen ja yksilöiden vapauden mahdollistaminen.

—–

Näin siis joitakin ajatuksia suvaitsevaisuudesta minimalistisena käsitteenä ja negatiivisena relaationa sekä pseudo-suvaitsevaisuuden ongelmista. Monia asia vaatisi vielä selventämistä: absoluuttisen rajan käsite (ja rajan käsite laajemminkin), tunnustamisen ja hyveellisen erimielisyyden suhde toisiinsa, älyllisten hyveiden olemus ja mahdollisuus, ja niin edelleen. Ehkäpä palaan näihin myöhemmin.

 

 

Called to Be Witnesses of Hope (Sermon)

Doubting Thomas
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1602), Caravaggio.

[Sermon 23.4.2017 / English Service / Jh. 20.19-31 (1Jh. 5.4-12, Ish. 43.10-12)]

1. Reading and Introduction

Jh. 20.19-31

In this Sunday’s reading we meet the disciples whose grief is turning into joy, just as Jesus had promised them before His death. So we meet the disciples at the very moment of the fulfillment of a promise. ”The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Before this the Eleven had only heard rumours that Jesus was not in the grave anymore, as some women in their company had told them, claiming that they had seen the Lord. Perhaps the disciples were not yet quite sure what do believe; there was probably lots of confusion and fear; after all, they were meeting behind locked doors. And then suddenly Jesus is among them and grief turns into joy, confusion into clarity, unbelief into faith and fear into boldness. Suddenly all is changed; Jesus is alive! He is indeed the promised Messiah of God! God’s promises were truly fulfilled in Him! He is the Saviour!

2. The Way of God Opens Up a Future

I do not know if any of you have ever found yourselves in a place where you felt that all your hope – indeed your future – had vanished, found your self at end of a dead-end street, with no way out. During the Holy Week Lamentations are read in many churches, and perhaps you’ve felt something like their writer (Lamentations 3.1-20). Or maybe you have read the Psalm 102 and it has described your feelings (vv.5,11): ”In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. – – My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like the grass.”

I know, that at least I have. In fact, during the last year or two I have felt the silence of God more than ever before and during those times I’ve become familiar with psalms like 102. I’d like to think, that maybe – after Jesus had died – the disciples also felt something like the psalmist or the lamenting speaker; they felt like their whole future had closed, all was lost, all meaning and purpose, all the promises of God, and there was nothing left, no hope, no future, no vision, no faith.

The disciples didn’t really ”suffer well”. You see, sometimes, in Christian circles we seem to have a rather stoic understanding of how a Christian is supposed to suffer; we are supposed to rise above all our earthly concerns, our emotions and fears and find some sort of inner peace above it all. To keep on hoping and believing, not matter what. The suffering and troubles might touch our outer self, but never our spirit, our inner self. And indeed, hope and faith are virtues that will help us get through, virtues to cultivate and value. It also true that for example Paul says that though our ”outer self” is wasting aways, our ”inner self” is being renewed day by day.

However, as the French theologians Henry deLubac has said, when it comes to suffering, ”Only the one who has suffered badly, has truly suffered.” When suffering is at its worst, we truly suffer badly: there is doubt, fear, confusion, disbelief, disappointment and even anger towards God. ”I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. – – My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” [Ps. 73.22-24,26]

This is true even for Jesus, I believe; His suffering was not of a stoic kind – despite the fact that Jesus knew who He was and what He was doing – anyone who has seen Him praying in Gethsemane or heard His cry at the cross (”My God, my God, why did you forsake me?”) would know that. Yet, even then, God’s promises ring true. And on the third day He rose from the grave.

And so for the disciples too, their desperate situation is suddenly changed, the dead-end street opens up and a way forward is shown; Jesus is there, Risen and Glorious. For the Gospels and the story of God’s salvation do not end at the cross, and nor does the Psalm 102 end at the verse eleven, but it also continues (vv.12-13,16): ”But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is the time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. – – For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in His glory.”

The Lord appears in His glory and the disciples see Him as who He is. Their calling and hope are restored, even for the doubting Thomas who first refuses to believe, perhaps trying to protect himself from further disappointment. Yet, Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his unbelief, but His love reaches out for Him, comes to meet Him: ”Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” And from Thomas comes the great confession: ”My Lord and my God!” Even doubting Thomas sees His Lord as who He is and his faith is restored.

Sometimes the silence of God is hard to bear, like it probably was for the disciples on the day after Jesus’ death. Perhaps you too have sometimes been in a situation when it is hard, indeed, almost impossible, to hope and God seems silent. Maybe you even gave up hope, stopped waiting for anything. But the grace of God is not dependent on us ”suffering well”, managing to keep up. In fact, it is often precisely then, when we have ”nothing left” in ourselves, when we have become empty – truly empty – of all trying and virtue, that we are drawn to discover the grace of God. It appears to me then, that for God our end is His beginning. Even when, for us, it seems simply to be the end.

And so, even then, after a while, God comes and the cover of darkness is lifted; we see Him. And when we see Him, see that He is here, our hope is restored. When we find the faithful God, the Loving Father, the Light of the World Himself, amidst our troubles, sorrows and sufferings, then we will find the sweetness of His healing presence. That is, I believe, that God is always – even in the midst of troubles and hardships – calling us into His healing presence, to find refuge in Him. And even when it seems like darkness is surrounding us and we can not find a way forward, we can not find hope, even then He is present, for His love never fails and He is relentlessly faithful.

And so, the disciples came to realize God’s plan all the way, to see His glory even in the cross. That is, through the encounter with the Risen Lord the disciples came to see God’s glory even in the cross. In our lives, it may still be that we never find a reason for some of our troubles. But, I believe, that God’s way is still always a way forward, it opens up a future, He gives us the gift of faith which leads to hope. We become future-oriented, for God’s way opens up a future. For an encounter with the God of Hope always leaves us with a feeling that it is good to continue from here, to walk on.

3. Called to Witness Through Knowledge of Him

So then, through the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus – of the new way forward, a new life in Christ – the diciples’ faith and hope are restored; He is indeed who He said He is, He is alive and reigns as the Lord of all. But the meeting with the Risen Lord does not only restore the disiciples’ faith and hope, but – through them – also their calling. ”As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”, is the first thing that Jesus says after ”peace be with you”, and then he continues: ”Receive the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit endows us with the virtues of faith and hope, and also with that of love. Through the Holy Spirit the disciples are sent with the mandate of Christ to be ambassadors of the Good News, witnesses of Hope and Love, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

The way of God opens up a future, in other words, it gives us a calling. And that calling draws us towards our future, towards the God’s plan for this world. The Old Testament reading of this day highlights this fact (Ish. 43.10-12):

You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, ”and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no saviour. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign God among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, ”that I am God.”

We have been called to know God and then, through this knowledge, show the world who He is. We have been called to be ’visible signs of His invisible reality’. For the disciples in the Gospel of John seeing the Risen Christ changed everything, restored their faith and hope, gave them a calling. Isaiah is really talking about the same thing; His prophetic message is calling us to the knowledge of God that restores our vision and to re-orientate our lives accordingly. Isaiah is calling us to see God as who He is, for that will change our lives.

Effectively, we can see Isaiah prophesying of that which then happens to the disciples; they realize the salvation and the new beginning that has been revealed in Christ and they become witnesses of this new found hope, of these Good News: Christ is Risen and He is the Lord of All. For God is on a mission to save and redeem His creation and He is calling us to take part in that; to participate with Him in the life of the new creation that begun in the resurrection of Jesus.

During the time of turmoil, we may lose sight of God’s sovereign plan not just for our own lives, but also for the life of the whole creation; it may be hard to find meaning or purpose, and we may question whether God has any plan after all, whether He really knows what He is doing. But God has a plan. He has not forgotten you. You are far too important to Him that He would waste your life. God is on His way to redeem and save, and you have been given the wonderful opportunity to be a part of His plan, to be alive.

However, the current trend in western Protestantism seems to be to understand our faith in a rather individualistic fashion, and therefore I would like to stress this communal nature of our hope and calling; God’s plan for each individual is part of even bigger plan to redeem the whole creation. And at least for me, this also gives hope, since this life is not about me, I can also trust that my life is far more important than I could ever think. And that the ultimate meaningfulness and purpose of my life I receive from outside of myself, outside of my own perspective and limits of my understanding, that is, from God Himself. And this purpose, this calling is a gift.

And though right now, there might confusion and it may seem that my life is ’wasted away’ in trouble, suffering or grief that seems completely senseless to me, even then, He has a plan and He is not going to waste my life, because He has called me. The darkness, the grief or the suffering is never final: as the cover of darkness was lifted from the lives of the disciples through their encounter with Christ, so also in our lives, the present Lord, Risen and Victorious over darkness and death, will lift the veil of darkness and endow us with a new hope, a new sense of calling. And this – though it is sometimes very hard to believe – is true even when we are living through a time of silence or of waiting.

And so, I would like to encourage you who are perhaps know in living in such time; just hold on. He has a plan and He has not forgotten you. Our God is relentlessly faithful and He is far more interested in the future of His world than we could ever be ourselves. So then, let’s lift our eyes to see Christ – to see Christ as who He is: Glorious and Risen, the Lord of all.

Vision After the Sermon

image
Vision After the Sermon (1888), Paul Gauguin.

I. The red: is it heaven or earth? One can not always tell. Faith takes place in-between: ’visible invisible’.

II. Jacob wrestling with God – I do not attempt to say it all here, but this I say: the wrestle is an act of faith. It presupposes belief in God who can be known, an active God who shows up. It assumes – it believes – that He is God worth wrestling with, worth struggling for. It is Jacob’s faith that pleads God, encounters God and, eventually, sees God.

It is a faith that ’won’t let go’, that refuses to turn away in apathy, fear, disbelief, agnosticism.

It is that which continues, and continues…

It continues and continues even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it can not see or understand, even when it seems ’foolishness’ or even ’offense’. Even then faith hopes, loves, trusts: it continues, and continues.

III. And therefore, for us to be ’true theologians’, to truly know God and talk truthfully about Him, we need to have faith. Especially academic, (post)modern theology can easily become a way to escape, to elude this ’struggle of faith’. Sophistication runs ahead of faith, creating neat and nice systems that fit ’us’ a little too well. Few like interruptions. Few like a strange God.

IV. Speaking about God; do we dare? Yes, yes we dare. But for us it is always a dialog, never a monologue. For monologue is easy, but dialog – that is the struggle. To meet the Other. Truly meet Him and love Him. No dancing with a shadow, but an encounter with the Real.

V. Coram Deo is no concept, but a reality; a human being can never speak of God behind His back.

VI. Too often theology lives in some sort of ’pseudo-reality’, turning away from the actual, the real; transcendence is understood in a platonic sense as something ’out there’, a world of ideas and abstractions ’more real’ than the one we see, into which only our minds and spirits [or, as in much of modern theology, ‘faith’] can probe into. (Whilst, in reality we are more likely to be entertaining a thought than actually encountering, on an existential level, this ’transcendence’.)

Dare I say that in many ways, modern systematic theology has withdrawn into abstractions nobly called ’reality of faith’ – ‘reality’ outside time, space, history, empirical evidence, reason and science. However, what reality then? It is a faith that is outside, above and beyond, not within. But true faith always concerns true reality; it is no means of escape, but of encounter. It takes place right here. Why? Because true faith has its origin in the Real and hence also, its destination: ‘There is but one God from whom all things came and for whom we live.’ [Cf. 1Cr. 8.5-6] And of course, because the object of faith is God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the Incarnated One. Incarnation is that ‘scandal of the particular’, where the object of our faith becomes a person in time and space, ‘empirical’ and ‘historical’. ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – -.” [1Jh. 1.1]

‘Empirical and historical’: part of the reason why much of modern theology felt such an urgent need to escape from this world into some ‘reality of faith’, was the modern, historical-critical method of biblical research that seemed to call into question the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. Instead of fighting the battle in where it belongs (biblical research, empirical sciences), the general idea seemed to be to escape it all together by the means of systematic theology. That is, by ensuring that our ‘reality of faith’ was truly another reality, untouchable by the one we actually live in, i.e. by empirical evidence, science, history. Hence ‘revelation’ and ‘history’ were violently pulled apart, and ‘faith’ became an airtight vacuum. I believe that it is time to regain our confidence and stop being afraid: to embrace not pre-critical, but post-critical attitude. To let incarnation become the guiding principle in how we view God’s omnipresence, His revelation and its relation to history (and thus, reason and evidence and their relationship to faith).

And then again, postmodernism (and, in some respect, ’contextual theology’) has inherited from kantianism a metaphysical justification for this ’turning away from the actual’ and then – as it usually is – metaphysics becomes epistemology; if God can not be known in Himself, what are we left with? Language, context, theology turned anthropology. A world that is an oxymoron, because we refuse to see it as a whole – as a world where God-in-Himself is present and known – ‘distinctio sed non separatio’, becomes simply ‘separatio’.

To clarify my own thoughts (and perhaps the reader’s too), I quote Ben Quash’s article on Revelation (Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, Oxford University Press 2007) that I happened to come across:

The veil of material things is not somehow on the way. If there is a way through the impasse of too narrowly reductionist and positivist views of revelation, it lies here [referring especially to incarnation], with an instance that empirical history is the locus of the revelation of transcendence, and that without it transcendence is merely a speculative projection.

A good doctrine of revelation will prevent attention to the empirical from becoming only a concern with brute facts such that we cannot discern God with us, and such that there is no genuine transcendence to revelation. It will also forbid a concern with transcendence from being abstract such that we do not see God with us, and such that there is no real reference in revelation.

VIII. Yes, faith sees this reality and it sees it whole. ’He saw Him who is invisible.’ [Heb. 11.27] What a mystery; to see the invisible. To see the invisible.

For God can be known. We must dare to encounter Him who is here.

To stand in the paradox, contradiction, even. To stand open with questions. To stand authentic – to stand with our whole being, with our fears, doubts, and sometimes even, (dare I say?) anger. To stand coram Deo.

And we will struggle, we will be transformed. (After all, Jacob limbed away.)

And yet, we will know Joy like no other.

Valosta

I. Valo ja varjo tarvitsevat toisiaan, mutta kun puhumme metafyysisestä se ei ole totta; valo ei tarvitse varjoja. Valo on syvimmillään täydellistä, vailla vaihtelun varjoa. Se ei suhteudu mihinkään tai tarvitse mitään. Se on vertaamatonta. ”Taivaan tähtien Isältä, jonka luona ei mikään muutu; valo vaihdu varjoksi.”

II. Myös totuus voi helposti käydä raskaaksi; monien ihmisten puheissa sitä raahataan kuin pitkää varjoa, joka kietoo todellisuuden vakuutteluun. Raskaita painoja ja pelonsekaisia väistöliikkeitä ahtaassa tilassa. Mutta Täydellinen Valo on vailla varjoja.

III. On olemassa todellisuus, jossa valo
on aito, jossa muistaminen ja unohtaminen, mennyt ja tuleva
liittyvät toisiinsa saumattomasti, yhtä kangasta
jossa ihminen nähdään, jossa voidaan lakata
taiteilemasta varjojen reunoilla.

Beautiful Union

Study of Crucifixion (1947), Graham Sutherland

I have come to realize that for some time already I’ve spoken of God as ‘beautiful’ without really being able to say what I mean by that. The word has emerged rather spontaneously, carrying an intuitive meaning that seems to elude explanation.

When I say: “God is beautiful”, I think I mean: I really, really like Him. He fascinates me. His glory, the radiance of His being, attracts me infinitely. Seeing and knowing Him fills me with joy. I like Him: I am driven into this relationship with Him not by fear or terror, but by a joyful desire that He Himself awakens by His very nature. He is Beautiful.

And this ineffable quality of beauty is somehow connected to joy: it is not gloomy, sad or undesirable, but the source of all things good and enjoyable. Seeing this beauty we rejoice and exclaim: “Oh, look at Him! What a wonderful God!” He is infinitely lovable and desirable, and truly so. It is the proper Fruitio Dei: enjoyment of Him who is the Source of Life, our deepest Delight.

God’s glory is His overflowing self-communicating joy. By its very nature it is that which gives joy. – – In and with this quality it speaks and conquers, persuades and convinces. It does not merely assume this quality. It is proper to it. And where it is recognised, it is recognised in this quality, with its peculiar power and characteristic of giving pleasure, awaking desire, and creating enjoyment.

Karl Barth (CD 2/I).

‘He is Beautiful’ has become almost a synonym to saying: He is True and Righteous. When we say that ‘He is good’ it is not simply some kind of religious language meant to mask a god who is actually not good at all, and ugly god. God’s beauty is the simplicity of His whole being, His Righteousness: the whole with all of its particular manifestations – goodness, justice, mercy, love and so on – is the radiance of God’s Beauty, His very own Glory.

But why all this talk of beauty? Quite suddenly, without conscious theological reflection, this word has become one of the main words I use to describe God. Why now? Have I, perhaps, after all these years of trying to love God, finally fallen in love with Him? As if I had suddenly been struck by something I’ve always believed to be true: God is worth all our love. It’s not just language: it is truly so. Rejecting Him is grave foolishness: to reject Him is to reject all that is Good and Beautiful. The god that Richard Dawkins opposes, the god Stephen Fry refuses to meet – that god does not exist. God is not a precarious, human-like monster who willingly afflicts his creation with all kinds of sorrows and sufferings. Faith is not a Stockholm Syndrome: we do not need to make explanations for such a god.

But, when the soul has properly adjusted and disposed itself, and has rendered itself harmonious and beautiful, then it will venture to see God, the very source of all truth and the very Father of Truth. – – Whosoever will have glimpsed this beauty – and he will see it who lives well, prays well, studies well – when will it ever trouble him why one man, desiring to have children, has them not, while another man casts out his own offspring as being unduly numerous; why one man hates children before they are born, and another man loves them after birth; or how is it not absurd that nothing will come to pass which is not with God – and, therefore, it is inevitable that all things come into being in accordance with order – and nevertheless God is not petitioned in vain?

Augustine (The Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil)

So then, for Augustine, a glimpse of God’s beauty somehow satisfies the soul that asks for justice and purpose in this world. So then, maybe the whole of theological aesthetics can be understood in terms of the sixth Beautitude: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. But our hearts, darkened by sin and ignorance, cannot see the beauty of God, and so we turn our accusations towards the only One who is truly Good and Beautiful.

Despite this – perhaps because we lack faith – the question  still looms: if God is so beautiful, why are we so blind? How can we be certain that our blindness is not simply an excuse we make for an abusive god? Again we are nearing the Great Mystery: the cross and the resurrection, God present in Christ, we in Him. Participation in His life and death as our true life, His cross as the center our existence.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” (Heb. 1.3). This, I believe, is the mystery that is so offensive to many: not simply Christ glorified and risen, but also Christ crucified is the beauty of God made manifest to our eyes. His death on the cross, as seen in the light of the resurrection, is that of which we can say: “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes!” And so we carry the cross as a sign of victory. We rejoice in it, we are glad in it.

This means also that “as human beings we will always stand in a profound, puzzling, tensionful relationship to all forms of human beauty. For the full glory of the world about us will be largely hidden in lives of secret self-sacrifice, of unceasing inner prayer, of profound artistic achievement that goes unrecognized in its own time”. Sometimes life of a Christian can be a profound work of art – a true unity of goodness, beauty and truth – and still go unnoticed in the world. The beauty of the Gospel – the beauty of the cross that shines in the light of the resurrection – is not kitsch. It is complex beauty, even harrowing and terrifying beauty. Still, “all that is fine and flourishing, all that is beautiful and radiant as God intends it to be, has its place in that transformed world which belongs first and foremost and finally to the poor and humble”. And in Christ “God’s glory  is revealed in humble, self-effacing lives of faith and love. It can be fully present in failure and ignomy. It is almost entirely veiled.” (Richard Harries, Art and the Beauty of God, A Christian Understanding.)

This complex beauty – veiled glory – makes no sense from the outside: mysteries cannot be understood objectively, by a way of distant observation. But this I know: in our death – in taking up the cross and following Him even unto death – there is revealed a peculiar glory and strange beauty that is simply marvelous. It takes hold of one completely: His captivating beauty in our participation in Him, even in His death. “We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!” (SS 1.4) It is the Beautiful Union: His death in my life, my life in His death – I in Him. So, at the center of Christian existence is the cross – and thus the resurrection. And yet more: Christ Himself, personal union with Him.

But still: how can we be certain that our blindness is not simply an excuse we make for an abusive god? The answer is that which has been hovering over all of this, but which I have not yet given a name: faith. Faith that sees Him, faith that reaches beyond the obvious, grasps that peculiar glory and strange beauty, turns the cross into our joy through vision of the Risen. Faith which is more than a cognitive disposition, a mind game, language, practice. Faith which reaches even beyond our consciousness into the very core of our selfhood – faith which is through the Spirit. That faith grasps the glory of God that is present in Christ incognito, the Hidden Glory.

Participation in Christ through the Spirit that creates faith turns the offense into a blessing: we see the cross in light of the resurrection. We look at Him in the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. We see God in the suffering – not simply as a distant accuser or the object of our accusations; not simply as the withdrawn absolute that lets the world run its deadly course or the primal reason in a causal chain of events that leads to tragedy. Vision of Christ allows us to break the menacing cycle of causal reasoning. But not necessarily by a way of explanation, but by a way of mystery, grace and presence; there is that unknown which we cannot enter, but there is also compassion and comfort and love – a vision of His beauty, even at the cross. And we can experience that by our participation in Him.

And so the unexplainable happens; we become His followers, we choose the way that is not obvious. The way that can sometimes be full of shadows despite it being the only way from glory to glory. It is still not the obvious way: it is, rather, marked by contradictions, paradoxes and sorrow and pain. It is a dark mystery, with occasional bright moments. And yet, it is not actually dark: there is the constant, though perhaps hidden Light that shines, like a silence that speaks. It is not easily explained, if at all, but I know – without knowing much about my knowledge – that He is there, at the very center. I in Him, He in me. The Beautiful Union, the Strange Way.

And so we walk from faith to faith, from hope to hope and from love to love in Him: in choosing the way of the cross one chooses the way of beauty. This is a mystery that cannot be forced externally: only by a way of freedom – the freedom of love – this beauty can be made manifest to us. And so, love and suffering meet each other: compassion and comfort meet the self in love. This is not a causal explanation: I still do not know ‘why’. Nor is this a glorification of suffering: may God have mercy on me. But I know that His compassion is my comfort. And I know that He has loved me so that I might become myself in love.

And He is Beautiful.

Your eyes will see the King in His beauty and view a land that stretches afar.

Ish. 33.17


This post is the last part in a series of reflections on the cross as the center of Christian existence. The other parts are: Compassion and Comfort and The Self in Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Self in Love

James Tissot: View from the Cross
View from the Cross (1886-1894), James Tissot.

We become our selves in love. I do not mean romantically, only. In fact, romance is not at all what I’m thinking about. I mean this: we become ourselves – we become persons – only in love. Not in love – referring to the common idiomatic expression – but in love. This, of course, relates to romantic love also, but maybe I’ll get to that later. So far it sufficies to say: I am an ‘I’ only in relation to ‘You’. I am alive in love – and in love only. And no one can love: we need others.

Life, then, is a long work of love. It is patient presence and disposition to be for the other. And it is in this openess towards the other – openess towards love, that is – that we are blessed. For openess to love is openess towards life, beauty and goodness. It is  the way by which I lose myself to receive my very self, die to live, and give to gain.

For life was created by triune God – a joyful communion of love between three persons who exist in and through each other, who become each other in each other. It is love ‘just because’, it is the meaning of life nearest to pure joy: love that gives, gives and lives. It is an existence that is inherently reciprocal, not in a calculative manner, but in a manner of happy and free abandonment of the self. Abandonment, yes, but not to disappear, but to become. The cross is never without the resurrection.

Now regarding romantic love: it is no different. The chief blessedness of marriage is the constant presence of the other who calls us out of ourselves to become ourselves. In fact, it is the chief blessedness of any constant relationship: to become our selves in love. This also relates to theology of the body, and theology of sexuality, more precisely: the reason that the current ‘hook-up culture’ and ‘sexual liberation’ produce such unhappy and broken relationships is that when you divorce sex from love the act becomes its own broken contradiction, an oxymoron – for sex, also, is a form of love. When you take out love, all you have left is lust. And lust, by definition, is a selfish desire that seeks to objectify the other so that s/he becomes an instrument for one’s own pleasure: there is no room for virtue, for kindness or tenderness. Lust is, thus, inherently and always closed to love, for it is closed to the other: it can never receive anything truly worth receiving. Lust closes itself off from the blessing of becoming one’s self in the other, because it cannot and doesn’t want to have the other.*

But love wants the other, the other that is truly other – not me. Love does not seek its own. This does not mean that love doesn’t desire, quite the opposite: love is precisely the desire for the authentic self of the other. And it is in this other-seeking-desire of love that one finds one’s very own self. One’s deepest desire, even romantic or sexual, must be love: and I do not mean love as a feeling, but rather love as a metaphysical and an ethical reality. It is not the experience of being in love that makes one a good lover, but the constant living in love – the concrete decision to be for the other rather than for oneself, to seek the other and to strive for virtue – for tenderness, kindness, patience and so forth. For love abolishes all (ab)use of power: the only way to have somebody as yours, is to give yourself for them. It is very concrete, very real. No absraction or idea can ever be love.

This is also, why the only proper context for sex is marriage. Marriage, being an analogy of the Gospel (not a trivial fact, as shall be seen below), is the covenantal relationship between two persons, a union of two persons, sex being the physical consummation of that covenantal union: the two become one in love – for love always seeks union with the one being loved, but never by abolishing the otherness of the other, since true union of two into one is possible only if the two remain themselves. Thus, the covenant and the union are inseparable from each other. One might now begin to see how one-night-stand is an oxymoron in itself.

So then, enough about romantic love, let us move forward, indeed to the very crux of the argument. All this talk about becoming one’s self in love only makes sense if the cross and the resurrection of the Son of God is at the very center of our world, if it occupies the very center of our reality. Only if we truly believe that after the cross there is resurrection – if that event, the dying and rising of the Son of God, is real to us – we dare to become ourselves in love, we dare to give ourselves away: we dare to die only in hope of resurrection. ‘Becoming one’s self in love’, ‘receiving by giving’, ‘living by dying’: none of this is comprehensible without the cross, and the cross is never without the resurrection. The law of reality – the perfect law of love that gives freedom (Jas. 1.25) –  is revealed in Christ – in the cross and the resurrection. Reality only makes sense in Him, indeed, He is the reality of God and reality of human beings united into one, concrete and living reality (Bonhoeffer). Thus, participation in Christ means, in a very real and concrete manner, participation in reality. It is in this reality, in this self-giving and permanently committed, faithful love that marriage is an analogy to the Gospel. Marriage only makes sense in light of the cross.

The self is truly self in love, always and only. Now, it is He who first loved us. This means: it is in being loved that we become ourselves in love. It is the love that became our brother and gave Himself away, away for us, that makes it possible for us to become ourselves in love. “Abide in me”, He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing. – – As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (Jh. 15.4-5, 9). When we abide in His love our whole being rests in love and that love gives us the boldness and premission to become meek, humble, gentle – no need to assert ourselves unnecessarily, since we have already been established in Him. My self rests in Him, secure and alive, always. And hence I become free to give myself away: this is the meekness that shall inherit the earth. And also, such as in cases of real abuse – where one’s self  is oppressed and constantly overridden – that love calls one’s self into visibility. Thus, this meekness of love never gives away for oppression or abuse of power. Indeed, love shown by other people to us – such as the love a friend can show to a person in an abusive relationship – calls us to become, it calls us from death to life. The meekness of love can never be a vehicle for external justification of suffering or oppression (cf. my earlier post, ‘Compassion and Comfort’).

So then, this is the logic of the cross: His self-giving and glorification, the dynamic of life itself. To participate in Him is to live, to live in love. And so He calls us: the guilty, the selfish, the lustful – and offers life. He offers to trade our ugliness for His beauty. In His unconditional, unflinching and unrelenting love it will be our joy, freedom and privilege to be for the other; to serve in love. To cherish that privilege, embrace that joy, choose that life – that strange, yet abundant life – will be our blessed state. Yes, it will be the blessing we cannot help but share.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. — If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them. – – We love because He first loved us.

1Jh. 4.12, 15-16, 19.


*Lust is not always merely distorted sexual desire. One can also lust for power and wealth, for example, and the effect will the same: no real encounter of the other, loss of self in isolation. Lust is simply no way to become.

This is the second post in a series of reflections on the cross as the center of Christian existence. The first part is Compassion and Comfort and the last part is Beautiful Union.

 

Compassion and Comfort

Kuvahaun tulos haulle crucifixion grunewald
Isenheim Altarpiece (1512-1516), Matthias Grünewald

He takes up my suffering. He does not reject it, but He embraces it, lifts it up and elevates as the way to life and resurrection. He doesn’t merely consider it as a problem to be fixed, a failure; He embraces it, takes it upon Himself. My suffering; this real, concrete suffering. I mean my depression, the sudden attacks of destitution that seem to cloud my vision entirely. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This is “the logic of the cross”, as Bonventure said it: ‘blessed are those mourn’ – this is the cross – ‘for they shall be comforted’ – and that is the resurrection.

I still do not enjoy suffering or even want to suffer (for that would be a contradiction in terms: sufferring, by definition, is not something that is enjoyed or desired). But I find comfort and meaning in the fact that He suffered. Nor is this a contradiction in the ‘contigency of suffering’, as Bonhoeffer called it in his letter (July 28, 1944), trying to reconcile ‘blessing’ and the cross. One should not oppose the cross with the blessing – blessing being a prominent theme in the Old Testament – and thus set the cross and happiness, or blessing, as each other’s opposites. “This turns the cross and/or suffering into a principle, and this is precisely what gives rise to an unhealthy methodism and denies suffering its quality of contingency within divine providence. – – In this respect the difference between OT and NT may consist solely in the fact that in the OT the blessing also includes the cross and in the NT the cross also includes the blessing.”

Suffering is not a method, but a mystery. And as it is with mysteries, the question of causality – the question of ‘why’ – becomes almost obsolete. Suffering is not the meaning nor the goal of life – it is something contingent – and yet, the resurrection happens only after the cross. In our lives, in our participation in Christ, these two are simultaneously existing realities. I thus make no claims on the reason for suffering, or on its value in and of itself – it is not suffering that is meaningful or even necessary in itself – but I know this: through this union of ours, this mutual participation (He participates in my suffering, and I in His), I am comforted. I live. Or – to put it more precisely – I can live. I can live because I know that my God was crucified: this is His passion, His compassion, His suffering-with-me and – what a miracle! – for me.

Since my God suffered, suffering as a human condition is justified – or, to be more precise, the suffering person is justified. In my suffering I am a justified human being, not a failed one, isolated and alone. I am taken up in Him, not rejected. I get to live, not to die, because of my suffering: this the great reversal the resurrection ushers in, the reversal in which death loses its ultimacy and life claims its Proper Ultimacy as the last frontier, as the Absolute. I get to see Him, the Beauty of God Crucified, rather than being shunned from His presence.

And I gain hope in the meaning which is in the promise: “This is my comfort in suffering; Your promises preserves my life.” (Ps. 119.50) His sovereign plan will not fail in suffering, trouble, darkness and hardship. His compassion is my comfort. His resurrection is mine, too. This is the inner justification of the suffering which cannot, however, be turned into an external justification of suffering, for it is not the justification of suffering per se, but the justification of the person who suffers (hence, inner). To turn this compassion and comfort into an external justification of suffering would be to completely ignore the logic of the cross – which always includes already within itself the resurrection. Ultimately it is the resurrection, the New Life, that is justified and which also justifies the cross. It is the resurrection – Life – that claims suffering for God, elevates it and justifies it.

I mean this: it would be to ignore the resurrection to say that the poor should stay poor, for ‘suffering’ is holy and justified, since Christ, too, suffered. It would be to neglect the miracle of New Life to volunteer as a martyr or to passively accept evil and injustice. Suffering is contingent: one suffers for the world, not because of it only. One suffers for the New Life, not simply because of the death of the old. Hence, one who lives in the New Life of Christ, seeks to alleviate suffering. We do not need to glorify it; we simply need to be able to stand it and live. We may be “perplexed, but not in despair”, for “we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2Cr. 4.8-9)

Hence, the one who finds herself justified and elevated in Christ – with all the contingency of her suffering – is at the same time raised to a New Life that is for God and for others – and hence into a life that is dedicated to making the blessings and benefits of His resurrection visible for those are lost and dying, suffering and hurting. “We were therefore buried with Him through baptisim into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. – – Count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rm. 6.4,11)

But how about when we suffer as the guilty ones? That is, when we suffer for the sake of our own sin? Is such suffering also internally justified through faith – i.e. participation – in Christ? Does He take up even my sins? Yes! And again; sin in itself is not justified – the cross is not a justification of sin, but its judgment. However, the incomprehensible comfort of God overcomes even the categories of perpetrator and victim – for the Innnocent One suffered for the guilty. And again, since this is not an external, but an internal justification of the sinner (not the sin), one cannot claim that in public life, for example, the categories of perpetrator and victim disappear. Rather, in my struggle with my sin, I am comforted by the compassion of God – for I know that He is no stranger to my humanity. And I know, that I can live. And I find comfort in the fact that where I find sin in my life, He has carried it already, He has taken it upon Himself. That I can, in fact, offer my wayward thoughts, my pride and vanity, my unkind heart to Him and know that I am safe in Him, that He takes them up – this death of mine – and gives me Life. It is the Beautiful Exchange.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the suffering of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same suffering we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. – – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.

2Cr. 1.3-7, 20.


On the painting: it is the central panel of Grünewald’s famous Isenheim Altarpiece which was originally painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, which specialized in hospital work. Wikipedia tells us: “The Antonine monks of the monastery were noted for their care of plague sufferers as well as their treatment of skin diseases – -. The image of the crucified Christ is pitted with plague-type sores, showing patients that Jesus understood and shared their afflictions.”

This post is the first part in a series of reflections on the cross as the center of Christian existence. The other two parts are: The Self in Love and Beautiful Union.

 

 

 

 

A Tentative Methodological Manifesto

I. Theology, strictly speaking, is a conceptual discipline, a textual conversation about the first-order type of reality, knowledge of God. It is really about texts, or language: reading, writing, speaking, thinking. It is fundamentally conceptual. The reason why it is more often a textual discourse than a real-life conversation is quite simple: many of those who participate in the conversation are either dead or very far away – yet they need to have their voice heard. At best, of course, the conversation is real-life: one in which you can interpret the facial expressions of other people involved, where you can hear and sense the tone of their voice, ask them to clarify their claims, ask them to give real-life examples, inquire in to their own personal history and its impact on their words, show mutual love and respect, pray; where you can be present as a person. But most often, at least when public, theological conversation – theology as an academic disicipline – is textual.

II. Then there is a theology of higher kind; it is the first-order type of knowledge of God. It’s about faith, hope, love. It’s about mystery, about darkness and light, joy and sorrow, suffering and redemption. It is about the reality of revelation, not merely language but real, metaphysical presence. It’s about life, virtues, service; it is not merely conceptual, but metaphysical and practical, real. It’s about presence of others: God and the neighbour. (Cf. Katherine Sonderegger: God remains  Subject in His Objectivity). It’s not just about human words, but about The Word, the Living One. It’s about experience, and presence beyong experience. It’s about the actual reality we live in. It’s apophatic, and yet more. On the conceptual level this cannot be, but there is an integral and intrinsic connection between the conceptual level and this level of actuality; the conceptual level is about this level of actuality – not just about itself, therefore! – and in methodology we need to give a conceptual account of that relationship, of the sources of theology and its nature as disicipline, that is.

II,2. I therefore make the claim that theology must have authetic roots. These roots it has in (1) reality – the concrete cultural, political, pastoral, social reality it takes place in, (2) experience – especially in the experience of union with Christ through the Holy Spirit, but also in one’s conrete life experience, i.e. personal history, and also the experiences of others whom the theologian must attentively listen; to this category of experience fall also mystical experiences, visions and what catholics would call ’private revelation’, (3) community and relationships – be it friendship, church, marriage or family, (4) holiness – that is, sanctification, virtues, wisdom and so on. (You could, of course, say that actually there are only two over-lapping categories: revelation and reality, where reality embraces the whole of ‘context’ or ‘experience’, i.e. 1-4.) In other words, theology must have authetic roots in real life from which it derives its vitality and relevance, its meaning; it is an embodied discipline. To this process of ’derivation’ theological methodology (prolegomenon) must give an account: it must therefore reach not only to epistemology, possibilities of language and doctrine of revelation, but also to ecclessiology, ethics and eschatology (via the concepts of eschatological value and eschatological providentiality of truth).

But how exactly does this ’derivation’ happen? It happens primarily through prayer and reflection; theologian stands as a real, concrete human being – not as some sort of ideal, detached ’mind’ – in the intersection between her reality and the reality of revelation, and – most importantly – perceives their essential unity in Christ (cf. Bonhoeffer, in his Ethics, ’Christ, Reality and Good’). Her task is therefore, most essentially, to see the reality in the unity of faith. In this place of intersection theology takes place as a creative and embodied dicipline. I would like to assert that these aspects of reality in which theology as language has its roots are an actual, vital part of the theological process: they are not optional. Theology as a dicipline summons the whole person coram Deo. Prayer therefore is here understood not merely as speech – or even listening! – but as being-before-God, as openess towards Him, a way of existing as a human being, constant but not forced acknowledgment of God, ’walking by the Spirit’, a living relationship, a consideration of all things before God and in the light of His Word. It is through prayer that theology puts its roots into reality, into the very marrow of life, into the Rivers of Living Water [cf. Jh. 7.38].

II, 3. After this I would like to elaborate on one important statement I made earlier: theology is not about itself. That is, it does not have its value and meaning ’in and of itself’; it is not its own goal. Therefore, the goal of theology should never be ”innovation”, some sort of intellectually sophisticated system for the entertainment of the academia, that is, an absraction. A theologian should not attempt to advance the field of theology as such, to get lost in an endless world of absractions and rearticulations of conceptual schemes; she should not live like the world of theology – the world of absract, conceptual debate – would be the essential reality from which theology emerges, commenting itself, reflecting upon itself, being ’in and of itself’.1 This means, that while we engage tradition and current theological trends – that is, are aware of the absract environment in which we move – we do not decide on the course of our theology on basis of what theological problem needs to be solved next. And even when we decide to work on a problem that is traditionally and explicitly theological, we keep in mind what it is that we are doing. We do not aim to become the ”next great innovators” in theology, for that is a vain glory. We aim to be truthful, to know God, to live a holy life with real, concrete impact. Our letter of recommendation will not be written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on books, blog posts, articles or papers, but on the tablets of human hearts (2Cr. 3.3). Embracing this gift will give the theologian a pecualiar glory and wonderful freedom (cf. 2Cr. 3.7ff.); to be free for God and for the neighbour, free in service and truth. Free also, therefore, to ”skip” some of the heavy, conceptual problems of theology in order to seek God’s truth afresh. There is no a priori need for the theologian to commit to any spesific theological school or to be bound by classical contradictions of theology (such as that between analogia fidei and analogia entis), but she is free to search new synthesises.2 She is free for a hollistic search for truth, indeed, she is free for the Most Beautiful Truth, driven by the occasional glimpes of that Beauty that are scattered all around our tradition.

I dare say that in much modern dogmatics theology has become an intellectual puzzle, a conceptual game, essentially a form of entertainment – and this is precisely because it has forgotten the fundamental fact about its own ontological status: that is is language, and therefore not the reality it is talking about. It appears to me that many modern dogmaticians have a tendency to speak as if the system they were creating with their words was something in itself, as if the mere existence of a book, or a thought could be reality, as if the words were in themselves the reality of God and knowledge of Him. As if writing a systematic theology, developing a conceptual system, could settle some sort of status quo, as if our language and words weren’t always and all the time ’on the brink of annihilation’, being torn apart from the seams and ultimately justified only by faith in God who comes to us and makes our words live. As if, we as subjects weren’t all the time before the Ultimate Mystery, summonned in our very selves, almost blinded by His incomprehensible Glory – and made to see precisely in that Glorius Beauty.

III. So then, all this (I-II) is done coram Deo. These two aspects of theology: reflection and reality, language and truth, they correspond to each other, they over-lap each other, yet remain distinct. The first-order typer of knowledge is the true source of the second-order type; the conversation of theologians is not a dead conversation, where the first-order kind of reality wouldn’t be present – even amongst that conversation He summons us, He is present. That conversation therefore has three aspects: God and His reality (revelation), our conceptual reflection upon that and upon the reality we perceive with our senses; seeing reality as whole. Theology, necessarily, is not just speech about God, but speech in the presence of God, under God’s authority, reaching towards Him in prayer, meditation, reflection. Fear of God in the intellect, heart, spirit and soul.

 

 


 

1What I’m trying to say here is, that the most important questions of theology aren’t the ’questions of theology’, but the questions of life. A theologian who wishes to stay truthful, connected to reality, to have authentic roots, should not only look at the world of theology for the questions, problems and research proposals. This doesn’t mean that we no longer engage the wider world of academia and theological tradition; we very much do so – for that is what theology is as a dicipline – keeping, however, all the while in mind, that the real essence of our task lies elsewhere.

2However, this does not lead to contempt for theological tradition; we must consider carefully what has been done before, and our doctrine – our work – will be guided by its proper boundaries set by revelation, tradition, reason and experience.