When you talk it gets light


For friends I know who are in a dark place.

I promised a passage from Benner’s Presence and Encounter, which I’m presently (pun intended) reading. Just a paragraph or two:

Sigmund Freud tells the story of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of a home he was visiting one evening. “Auntie,” the boy cried, “talk to me! I’m frightened because it is so dark.” His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me?” “That doesn’t matter,” replied the child. “When you talk, it gets light.” This child was not afraid of the dark but of the absence of someone he loved. What he needed to feel secure was presence. We all need the same; knowing presence is the ground of this basic sense of safety for all of us. (Emphasis mine)

A couple of pages later Benner adds:

Because humans are hardwired for presence, we will always be vulnerable to absence. Even Jesus knew this vulnerability. Nowhere was this more clearly expressed than in his cry of anguish from the cross when he sensed God having forsaken him. Jesus, like us, had to learn that the apparent absence of God is actually a face of the real presence of God. If the stable knowing of the presence of the one he called Father—the presence that so characterized the rest of his life—could be threatened at such a point as this, who are we to expect that we will ever be immune from such vulnerability?

Carefully then. I don’t really know Benner’s theology, specifically his Christology, well enough to draw any final conclusion from this. One could read him here as agreeing that the Son is abandoned by the Father in some absolute sense that rends the divine nature itself. That would not be a view I’d share. But one can also read him as affirming simply that the Father gives Jesus over to the same circumstances we universally associate with such abandonment. Why would the Father do that? As we’ve suggested: to demonstrate not that in Christ God becomes to the truth of our despair, but to expose that despair as illusory and false, to “talk to us in, or from, the dark.”

I suggest this is what the Cross is (among other things): God talking to us in/from the dark, a darkness we are afraid of but which Jesus faced on our behalf without surrendering (as we do) to the belief that the darkness can become all there is.

What does Jesus say of his immanent suffering? John 16:31-33 (which I’ve explored before):

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Emphasis mine)

Crucial verses. On these I earlier offered:

That pretty much rules out the divine abandonment view. Besides explicitly declaring that his Father would be with him in his upcoming ordeal, Jesus’ point (v. 33) is that how God would be with him on the Cross would ground their own peace in upcoming afflictions as a consequence of his having overcome the world. That is, how the Father would be with Jesus in his suffering is how the Father is with us in ours.

Let us remind ourselves, lastly, of Hebrews 12.1-3, which describes Jesus as enduring the Cross, even despising its shame. What kind of presence of mind could possess such a perspective on such suffering as to despise its shame? If Jesus is despising the shame of the Cross, he’s not succumbing to its threatening narrative. “For the joy set before him” he endures. Permit me another quote from an earlier post:

“Enduring” can only describe some persisting feature of Jesus’ conscious experience which the Cross could not wrest from him or define away, some unsurrendered belief the truth of which constitutes the saving power of the Cross as such. What can this be but Jesus’ confident and unfailing belief regarding his deepest sense of identity and purpose and the sustained conviction that he would again celebrate the joy of its truth—the truth of who he was and why he came?

This is how I take Benner’s second quoted paragraph there, as warning us that we are not exempt from experiencing within the created ordering of things every possible evidence for the truth of our worst fear, namely, that we really are, or we can be, alone and abandoned. But Jesus, rather than becoming the truth of such despair, disarms the power of the darkness to impose such a narrative upon us and he talks to us from the darkness. And when he talks, it gets light because his talking is light.

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