No, not that transcendence

transcendence-johnny-depp-posterDavid B. Hart, from his chapter “The Destiny of Christian Metaphysics” in The Analogy of Being (ed. Thomas J. White, O.P.), a great collection of reflections on that controversial topic. We reference it here too if you wanna find the entire chapter. Bracketed [] remarks are mine.

I say this with some care, I should add, since — anxious though I am to do full justice to Przywara’s insight — I am equally anxious to avoid conceding any legitimacy to the terms in which this particular rejection of the analogy is couched. Speaking entirely for myself, I am quite happy to embrace a metaphysics that might loosely be called the metaphysics of traditional Platonism, or even the metaphysics of certain kinds of Vedanta philosophy; indeed, I would argue that, as far as a philosophy of essences goes, any attempt to speak intelligibly of God and creation, one that does not ultimately dissolve into childish mythology, requires some such metaphysics. And in fact, if we confine ourselves entirely to questions of the causality of created things, we must ultimately conclude that, speaking purely logically – purely metaphysically – there is no significant difference between the idea of creation and that of emanation (unless by the latter one means some ridiculously crude, intrinsically materialist concept of a divine substance that merely “expands” into universal space and time). The basic structure of exitus and reditus [“exit and return”], diastole and systole – as, among many others, the Areopagite and Thomas both understood – is as inevitable for a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo as it is for a Platonian metaphysics of the One. Moreover, I would go on to say that it is impossible to speak meaningfully of a God who is all Goodness and Truth, the source of all being and knowing, without acknowledging that our being and our knowing are sustained from within by a God who is for each of us interior intimo meo, and that at the level of nous or spirit (or whatever one would call the highest intellective principle within us) there is that place where the Fünklein [that which is not touched either by space or time] or scintilla [“spark”] resides, where our ground is the divine ground, where (as Augustine says) nihil intersit [sic on Hart! nihil interit = “nothing perishes”], where Brahman and Atman are one, and in regard to which one may say of all things “Tat tvam asi” [Sanskrit, “You are that”].

(Picture here.)

No Exit: “Others” as Completion or Competition?

Fr Aidan over at Eclectic Orthodoxy has a great series of posts he’s doing on Christos Yannaras. I’m reading Yannaras’ Person and Eros now — very slowly. I’d like to encourage any who haven’t already read Fr Aidan’s most recent post linked below to do so.


Christos Yannaras: The Fall of Humanity into the Desperate Passion for Survival

“Man was created to become a partaker in the personal mode of existence which is the life of God,” writes Christos Yannaras—“to become a partaker in the freedom of love which is true life” (The Freedom of Morality, p. 19).

But humanity does not experience life. Death, dissolution, decay, violence and disorder—such is the human condition. Why are we so profoundly alienated from the end for which we were made? Christos Yannaras offers the classical Orthodox answer, with a modern twist…

(Continue reading here)

Filling in the frame of our destiny

esotericDwayne shared some interesting thoughts on purity of heart from Harvey Egan’s (SJ) An Anthology of Christian Mysticism:

“The mystics insist, however, that the mystical life is more than heroic virtue or service to the world. These are the outward expressions of their union with God, the sacramental expression of their mystical lives. They are socially and often politically active because they seek God and God alone. Only this—not ‘experiences’, not a transformed personality, not serving the world—gives the mystical life its ultimate value.

“Nonetheless, the mystics are the most impressive servants of humanity the world has ever seen. These deified, christified, spirit-filled persons are the amplifiers of every person’s more hidden life of faith, hope, and love. Their lives help us bear the interior whispers and see the faint flickers of divine truth and love in ourselves and others. The Christian mystics point the way to fully authentic human life by illustrating what it means to be a human being, what life means: eternal union (which begins here) with the God of love.”

And from Dag Hammarskjold:

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it—according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed—according to the measure of his purity of heart.”

And as well:

“To have humility is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves, but in its sacred independence. It is to see, judge, and act from the point of rest in ourselves. Then, how much disappears, and all that remains falls into place. In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud, a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.”

In the presence of my enemies…a table?

Hosp-ThouPreparestTableIII_lgWe often rush through familiar passages of Scripture and miss the treasures they offer. They’ve become commonplace. Psalm 23 is a prime example. But if we slow down and picture the scene, wonderful things happen.

The fifth line of the Psalm reads: “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” Now there’s a truth with transforming power. I imagine any number of experiences King David had could stand behind these words—boyhood experiences as a shepherd, the peace of mind he enjoyed in spite of prowling threats to himself and his sheep, or more likely God’s provision and tender care for David while King Saul attempted to track and kill him and later when he was surrounded by menacing enemies of war.

And yet in the midst of constant threats David experienced a “table in their presence.” Imagine it for a moment. A ‘table’ speaks of rest, of provision, of safety, of security and well-being. And yet this is experienced “in the presence” of enemies who intend him harm and of circumstances of want and experienced losses. This is no military ration eaten on the run under the fire of enemy combatants. This is something more, something transcendent of the ebb and flow of fortune and creaturely comforts, something that cannot be threatened, a table of God’s own making, a feasting upon God’s own presence, an undisturbed shalom at the heart of the storm. This is the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3.14:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

And 1Peter 1.6-9:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an unspeakable and glorious joy.”

And especially Romans 8.35-39:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Whatever your storm or struggle, whatever threats press in upon you, whatever enemies conspire—nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ, and by that I mean the experience of the love of God in Christ. God is your table in the presence of enemies. May you perceive this table as the truest thing about your life and circumstances, learn to take your place at its side and enjoy feasting upon its provision.

A blessed 2015 to you all.

(Picture here.)

The Colors of the Cross

Pink-cruciform-cutout-webIn arguing that God as the summum bonum just is the transcendentals (Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Beatitude [viz., experienced aesthetic value]), we are admittedly engaging in a form of natural theology (dismissed by many as idolatrous). We won’t enter into a defense of such a move here but will recommend Sarah Coakley. Not all ‘natural theology’ makes the ‘onto-theological’ mistake. We’ve also relied upon biblical passages that describe God in terms of a transcendent and glorious beatitude that is supremely transformative of creation’s suffering. We’ve discussed these passages here repeatedly. So biblically (as well as philosophically) speaking we feel like we have good warrant for understanding God to be unsurpassable beatitude.

However, there are other biblical texts that clearly describe God in strongly passibilist terms as possessing the full range of human emotions all of which are determinable by us. God’s anger burns, his heart breaks, he weeps, he laughs at the wicked, his grief leads him to regret having created, and more we needn’t mention. Point is—we have in these texts descriptions of a fully passibilist God whose “felt quality of existence” is contingent upon the fluctuating well-being of the world.

Shouldn’t such passages end the debate? There it is right there in the text: “God grieved” so greatly he regretted having created; God’s “anger burned” red hot against Israel, etc. After all, the Bible ‘says’ it. That settles it, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, this isn’t a straightforward rule that even passibilists use. For example, take Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic as an attempt to deal with the tension between the divine violence texts and God’s non-violent love revealed in the Cross. Greg has argued for a cruciform standard, i.e., reading the Bible from the Cross outward, from the methodological center of the non-violent love revealed in Christ’s self-sacrificial love outward toward all other descriptions of God (Old and New Testaments), judging whatever descriptions of God fail to conform to [Greg’s reading of] the Cross as you move outward.

If we’re following him correctly, Greg argues that for whatever ‘actions’ (in this case acts of violence) are attributed to God in the text fail to conform to the non-violent love revealed on the Cross, we are to conclude that God did not in fact do or command them. We should rather understand such passages as God accommodating himself to a violent covenant partner (OT Israel) and identifying with their fallen violent ways in Cross-like love. It is only later in the Cross (not in biblical texts per se) that God reveals the nature of this accommodation. God is allowing himself to be identified and used by Israel for their own selfish violent ends. The abiding truth of such passages is one and the same, namely, that God accommodates and identifies himself with fallen, despairing people, sometimes tolerating their flawed understandings of him and even the projection (within the biblical texts) of their violence upon him. It is only through the light which Christ later sheds on this history that we perceive God revealed unambiguously as non-violent love and his accommodating Israel’s violence as a manifestation of this love’s covenant faithfulness. Greg hasn’t published the fuller arguments for this, so we’ll not get into a debate of his main thesis. Looking forward to it!

The point we wish to make here is that this view ought to be applied not only to the problem of God’s ‘doing violently’ but also to God’s ‘feeling violently’. Take a passage like Exodus 32, relied upon heavily by open theists to ground the biblical case for God’s responsive manner of relating in an open future. Greg’s hermeneutic reads the proposed ‘doing of violence’ in cruciform manner. However Greg understands the text to function truthfully, it is for him a Christological given that God neither wills nor does harm or violence. We suggest extending this to the emotions attributed to God in such passages as well. One cannot take straightforwardly what a text like Exodus 32 says God ‘feels’ and interpret the violence God ‘intends to do’ in cruciform manner while saying nothing about the what God is described as ‘feeling’ on this occasion. If God does not ‘do’ violently because he is non-violent love, it can hardly be supposed that he ‘feels’ violently. Rage, laughing at the wicked, holding them in derision are all ‘emotions’ that one should think stand judged to be as un-Crosslike (going with Greg for the moment) as the violent ‘actions’ which these emotions motivate. You can’t qualify the ‘doing’ without qualifying the ‘feeling’ in such texts.

At the very least this means that given Greg’s cruciform hermeneutic there’s no straightforward way to read passibilist texts since some ‘passions’ fail to conform to the self-sacrificial love of the Cross as equally as do some ‘actions’ attributed to God. Besides, in Christ we learn that the moral distinction between ‘feeling’ and ‘acting’ is false. So there’s no question that whatever reasons Greg gives for reading violent passages in cruciform manner, they are also applicable to our reading of the relative divine emotions, which means some emotions depict God no more directly or truthfully than do passages that describe God as commanding genocide.

flaming-cruciformThis is no small adjustment. In Ps 37.13 God “laughs at the wicked” and in Ps 2.4 he “holds them in derision.” In Ps 5.5 God “hates all evildoers,” and in Ps 11.5 “[God’s] soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Never mind the fact that with Christ we come to see that ‘hating’ is a form of ‘doing violence’. So the moral sensibilities of the Psalmists (or Israel as a whole) aren’t exactly cruciform. Consider also Ps 7.11 where God “feels indignation every day” or Hosea 9.15 where God shall “no longer love” a generation of Israelites because of their wickedness. Not exactly emotional judgments or attitudes Greg could recommend as reflective of the loving, self-sacrificial attitude Christ has for the wicked. Our point is just that Greg’s hermeneutic has to embrace the ‘feeling’ as well as the ‘doing’ of violence and this itself tells us that such texts do not reveal God in any straightforward way.

Our difference with Greg is regarding what constitutes the ‘standard’ which is the Christological center. Where Greg argues that this standard is exclusively ‘the Cross’, we recommend the standard be ‘the whole of Christ’s incarnate and resurrected life interpreted apostolically’. It cannot be the ‘Cross’ alone, for this ends up bringing the apostolic witness into conflict with itself. For example, we would take Luke in straightforward terms when he describes the crucifixion as relaying ‘the standard’ revealing God’s intentions and nature but judge Luke (following Greg) to have fundamentally misunderstood God’s intentions and nature when he attributes Ananias and Sapphira’s deaths to the Spirit. Or take Paul’s declaration to know nothing but “Christ crucified” (1Co 2). We would take this to describe in a straightforward manner an all-embracing standard for our understanding of God, but then not take Paul’s statement that “God lives in unapproachable light” as describing deity in any essential way (since, so the logic goes, Jesus didn’t live in unapproachble light but was fully divine; hence, divinity isn’t essentially unapproachable light [whatever that means]). Nor would we think with Paul (Rm 8) that God is essentially a glory/beauty which shall relativize all human suffering into incomparable insignificance since (so the logic goes) Jesus’ experience of rejection and God-forsakeness on the Cross was not an incomparably glorious experience. In our view, it’s the entirety of the apostolic witness (“…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” Eph 2) and not merely what is said and done on the Cross which determines a Christological understanding of God. Paul’s “God lives in unapproachable light,” or any of the other ‘transcendent’ passages we’ve discussed (or Christ’s transfiguration, a hugely suggestive event that ought to tell us Christ’s divinity cannot be reduce to the shattering of triune relations on the Cross), is as authoritative and informative for a NT-Christcentered understanding of God as is Christ’s cry of dereliction.

One possibility we might consider in this regard is that the OT biblical authors sometimes simply got it wrong. Early on open theists argued that anthropomorphic language is “reality depicting.” There are specific correlates on the divine side of descriptions of God as “feeling indignation all day” or “burning with anger” or “laughing at the wicked” or “hating doers of violence.” Even if this is a good hermeneutical rule, it doesn’t follow that the biblical author was always right. Greg’s own hermeneutic already discounts these as revealing God as actually intending or doing violence or harm to people. But the reasoning can extend to the feeling of violence as well, and some passibilist attributions are certainly inherently violent. What do we have in such cases? We have fallen, violent people projecting themselves onto God within the biblical text. They were simply wrong to have believed God was like this. Israel’s Scripture is a mixed bag because Israel was a mixed bag. The text gets it sometimes right and sometimes wrong because the text is Israel. We earlier described what we think this means for the Bible’s inspiration.

Cruciform Comp 1But this doesn’t entirely solve the (im)passibilism debate, for there are many other passibilist passages that attribute non-violent emotions to God (compassion, joy, delight, sorrow, brokenheartedness, grief). What of these? Our feeling is that it all gets read from the point of view of the full, apostolic witness and eschatological hope, not from Jesus’ cry of dereliction alone. We’ve commented on key passages we think make it extremely difficult to understand God in a fully passibilist sense.

So how do we read a passage like Gen 6? It seems to us that taking its truth at face value and concluding that God did in fact grieve to the point of regretting having created and having willed the violent destruction of the entire human race (a plan altered by Noah; note the adversative in “but Noah found favor”) is simply not an option in the fuller light of the Incarnation and the apostolic witness. What we can say is this—the OT biblical authors at least were for the most part strong passibilists. But they were also, apparently, violent and widely racist/tribalists, and these attitudes shaped their religious traditions and their texts as well. Given this, there’s no warrant to assume the biblical authors comprehended divine emotional well-being any more accurately than they understood God’s non-violent character.

We earlier commented:

Thus the history of Israel — her identity as a nation, her calling, her religious traditions and her Scriptures — is the context that will inform the development of the Word’s identity and mission. This context must be sufficiently truthful for that purpose. And the place this history is primarily embodied is, of course, Israel’s Scriptures. The worldview housed in that tradition will become the context in which Christ develops his own sense of identity and mission in the world, communicates that identity and mission to his disciples, and is finally empowered to fulfill that mission on the Cross. Hence that context needs to be sufficiently truthful for this purpose.

Might some errors belonging to the authors find their way into the text? Yes. No human author possesses an inerrant set of beliefs. No one person’s transformation and world-construction is complete or error-free. But overtime, enough of the truth needing to be said gets said in enough ways that a worldview adequate for the Incarnate One and the Church as his Body emerges. This means we view inspiration as relative in the first sense to preparing a context adequate for incarnation and not primarily about providing us a philosophical or scientific textbook adequate to answer whatever questions we put to it.

And this as well:

We are thus arguing for the canonization of Israel (as opposed to her texts per se) as the sacred space within which God creates the conditions sufficient for incarnation. Are the OT ‘texts’ inspired? In the sense that these writings are the written record of that created covenantal space God has sanctified for pursuing his incarnational purposes, yes. And it’s a mixed history; a history of misconstrual, of despairing nationalism, of religious hubris, but also of honest praise and humble dependence upon God. It’s a history that sufficiently succeeded at preserving the socio-religious conditions necessary for incarnational vocation. Israel is that space in the world where God does not give up on carving out a worldview sufficient for incarnation. They got it right enough for what ultimately mattered.

However, Paul claims “all Scripture” is God-breathed (2Tm 3.16). Isn’t that equivalent to claiming all Scripture is equally truthful and thus inerrant? Not necessarily. For example, humankind is also “breathed into” by God and becomes a living soul and yet retains this “God-breathed” status even as fallen and prone to error. He inevitably remains the consecrated space in which God works to secure his incarnational purposes. Similarly, all Scripture is God-breathed in the sense that God is choosing all of THIS history — good and bad, true and false—as the sanctified space in which God works to prepare an adequate social-religious context for Incarnation and redemption.

That said, consider Greg’s description of his ‘cruciform standard’:

But why should anyone insist that Scripture conform to any of these standards of accuracy? If we accept the view that all theological concepts should be centered on the cross, then it means that our understanding of “biblical infallibility,” as well as “biblical inspiration,” should be centered on the cross. And as I said above, if God most perfectly revealed his perfection by identifying with our imperfections on the cross, then we should have no problem affirming that the Bible is a “God-breathed,” “infallible,” and even a “perfect” book while at the same time accepting that it contains human imperfections. And it’s not simply that Scripture is inspired despite having human imperfections, as many argue. If we accept the cruciform approach to inspiration, we should rather affirm that God “breathes” through Scripture’s human imperfections as readily as God “breathes” through any and every other aspect of Scripture.

Finally, if we accept the cruciform approach to inspiration, then the cross becomes the standard against which Scripture’s “infallibility” must be assessed. In this light, to confess that Scripture is “infallible” means, most fundamentally, that it will not fail to bear witness to the crucified Christ if properly interpreted through the power of the Spirit, and with our eyes focused sharply on Christ.

We don’t see why a very similar thing could not be said regarding the strongly passibilist descriptions of God found in Scripture. The point is that there is no direct route from biblical descriptions of God to the truth about God. It doesn’t follow that since God is described as furious with rage or heartbroken with grief that these descriptions ought to be taken in a straightforward (theatrical?) manner. The authors may simply be interpreting God’s judgment (via plague, pestilence or foreign nations) as involving emotions that would undoubtedly accompany them as human beings were they executing such judgment. And if Israel’s view of God as a violent tribal deity is as thoroughgoing as Greg argues, then perhaps we shouldn’t trust Israel’s view of God much at all. But methodologically speaking at least, once we grant that a biblical author may speak from within a flawed view of God (known to be flawed based on later truths arrived at Christologically), then what’s been the standard open theist approach to reading passibilist texts becomes problematic.

It’s not easy to derive a single biblical view of God from Scriptures which tell the story of diverse, sometimes competing, views that develop over time. Greg’s right, we think, to agree with the general conviction that we read the Bible ‘Christocentrically’ (from the conviction that Christ is the end toward which the OT was moving to the idea that Christ can and does judge aspects of the old economy obsolete or originally mistaken). As for the details of Greg’s cruciform hermeneutic, we’ll await publication. Our point here is that when we read passibilist attribution in the light of what we feel are central NT convictions, we’re not departing from a Christcentered reading. We simply don’t share Greg’s understanding of what constitutes the standard by which other texts are to be read. Christ-centered reading, yes. But the Christ at the center is the Christ of the entire NT reflection and not exclusively the passion narratives.

(Pictures here, here, and here)

Racism: a failure of self-perception

conceptual-photography5In light of police violence resulting in the deaths of black persons, Dwayne and I have been chatting about, among other questions, the systemic nature of white privilege in America. I thought I’d share my thoughts (very much in progress).

I don’t think the “systemic” problem is an ill will or intention to harm. I think it’s a failure in the core of white folk to identify black people as truly and beautifully human, and this failure is essentially a failure of self-perception, that is, a failure to perceive one’s self in the other (in this case the other who is a black person) via identification of the true self with Christ as the shared ground of being and value for both the self and other. It’s not something white folk are aware of, and we deny it when the question enters conscious thought where we engage the morality of racism, etc. We say the right things when we intentionally engage the questions. Of course all races are equal before God. But that confession hasn’t soaked the deeper soil of our deepest self-perception.

Already I feel like I’m not really expressing my feelings well on this.

This happens because we fail to identify the ground and source of our own personal meaning/value with the ground and source of the meaning/value of black people. Bottom line, white folk by in large fail to see themselves in black people, and that is why racism is first a failure to perceive the truth about one’s self and only secondly a failure to see the truth about others. “Love others as you love yourself.” Jesus understood it. Love of other is a function of love of self, and every failure to love the other is first a failure to love one’s self. Racism is a misrelating to the self.

What do I mean when I say white people don’t see themselves in black people and that this is first a failure of self-perception before it’s identifiable as racism? I’m referring—theologically speaking—to that fundamental ‘self-constructing’ act we all engage in throughout life. We ground our meaning and value, our unique identity, in something outside ourselves. If my deepest sense of self is the belief that what grounds and gives meaning and value to my existence is identical to that which grounds and gives meaning to every other human being no matter the racial differences between us, then I must inevitably value and love others as I love myself. My guess is white people simply don’t see themselves and blacks as ‘one’, truly one, in that which grounds their value and identity. They can look at a black person and not see themselves, by virtue of their shared humanity, gifted and grounded in Christ. This failure needn’t be explicitly chosen by a white person, but it is easily confirmed in the historical advantages that whites enjoys in the United States. One has to intend to expose and confront it.

It’s not for the most part that white cops show up on the scene, see a black man and consciously say to themselves, “Oh good, a black guy, I hate black people, so here’s my chance” and then decide to lie about that when questioned. I think what happens is that the deeper unexamined racism I’ve tried to describe above is what comes out in tense and escalating situations. As tension escalates, people increasingly respond from their deeper values and identity structures, not from the textbook morality they agree to popularly. And that may mean slight or drastic alternations in judgment. When it’s all over, naturally they affirm what they believe on a conscious level. And there are always ways to plausibly explain their actions in terms of situation, perceived threat, etc. The racial false self slips beneath the surface and disappears.

What complicates this is that the law cannot peer into the deeper, core false selves that people access in heightened stressful situations. The law only sees ‘actions’ and only recognizes motivation when they’re made explicit or are obviously implied in actions. And that implication is much harder to prove in these cop situations where black people are killed. Indeed, I’m not claiming to have access into the hearts of white people everywhere. I’m only sharing from my own experience and journey.

(Picture here.)