To my friend, Greg Boyd

greg-cruxCongrats to Greg on the publication of a decade (at least) of research and hard work. I don’t know anybody whose passion level approaches Greg’s when he sinks his teeth into a project. He stuck with this, saw it through, and so congrats are in order! His new work is a massive effort of love that deserve serious reflection and review.

I love this man. He made himself accessible to me, opened his home and heart, and inspired my own intellectual appetite. The fact that I disagree so strongly with the Christology that underpins his new work is due in part to him. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. When I’ve finished CWG (Crucifixion of the Warrior God), I hope to blog through a review of it. There will doubtless be much to agree with, and plenty of insight to celebrate. But since nobody inside Greg’s circle who knows his work well is likely to disagree with him on anything like Orthodox grounds, we hope to share our own perspective on it in due time.

In the meantime, Greg – ponder thisThere is another way the Cross can heal the world without simply making God the truth of its pain.

 

Fecisti nos ad te

Spiritual-Disciplines“You made us for yourself”
(Augustine, Confessions)

One concern that inspires my continued attempts at blogging is the integration of doctrine (the propositions theologians spend so much time on) and living, the beliefs we hold and how those beliefs transform our living. This is why I often ask a person to describe how he actually does this or that belief or doctrine, how the belief in question transforms his conscious intentions and choices, whether or not he prays differently because of the belief in question. From my perspective, this ‘doing’ just is the ‘meaning’ of the belief in question, for the meaning of our beliefs is the difference they make to our concrete living.

This is why I suggested vita ex nihilo as a reflection upon creatio ex nihilo. It’s one thing to adhere to the doctrine that God freely created the world “out of nothing.” It’s an entirely different thing to live that belief, to order and structure the interior life of the mind/heart and the habitual behavior of the body in ways that increasingly realize and demonstrate its truth. Only then does one truly believe, for a belief that cannot make a difference to one’s living isn’t a real difference in believing either. God will not judge us with respect to beliefs that possess no power to inform/transform life into Christlikeness.

There is a certain openness of the human spirit – viz., the structures of conscious thought, its capacity for self-relation, its aesthetic appetite, its teleological orientation, etc. – to God’s Spirit which makes it possible for belief to transform living. I recently encountered Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s The Three Ages of the Interior Life (2 vols – 1938/39), the burden of which is to provide a description, better yet a ‘map’, of the how spiritual formation occurs. Permit me to share here a portion of Part 1’s Ch. 2 (“The Interior Life and Intimate Conversation with God”) that touches upon the structure of interiority. He writes:

From this point of view, to give a clear idea of what the interior life should be, we shall do well to compare it with the intimate conversation that each of us has with himself. If one is faithful, this intimate conversation tends, under the influence of grace, to become elevated, to be transformed, and to become a conversation with God. This remark is elementary; but the most vital and profound truths are elementary truths about which we have thought for a long time, by which we have lived, and which finally become the object of almost continual contemplation.

Conversation with oneself
As soon as a man* ceases to be outwardly occupied, to talk with his fellow men, as soon as he is alone, even in the noisy streets of a great city, he begins to carry on a conversation with himself. If he is young, he often thinks of his future; if he is old, he thinks of the past and his happy or unhappy experience of life makes him usually judge persons and events very differently…

If a man is fundamentally egotistical, his intimate conversation with himself is inspired by sensuality or pride. He converses with himself about the object of his cupidity, of his envy; finding therein sadness and death, he tries to flee from himself, to live outside of himself, to divert himself in order to forget the emptiness and the nothingness of his life. In this intimate conversation of the egoist with himself there is a certain very inferior self-knowledge and a no less inferior self-love.

He is acquainted especially with the sensitive part of his soul, that part which is common to man and to the animal. Thus he has sensible joys, sensible sorrows, according as the weather is pleasant or unpleasant, as he wins money or loses it. He has desires and aversions of the same sensible order; and when he is opposed, he has moments of impatience and anger prompted by inordinate self-love. But the egoist knows little about the spiritual part of his soul, that which is common to the angel and to man.

Even if he believes in the spirituality of the soul and of the higher faculties, intellect and will, he does not live in this spiritual order. He does not, so to speak, know experimentally this higher part of himself and he does not love it sufficiently. If he knew it, he would find in it the image of God and he would begin to love himself, not in an egotistical manner for himself, but for God. His thoughts almost always fall back on what is inferior in him, and though he often shows intelligence and cleverness which may even become craftiness and cunning; his intellect, instead of rising, always inclines toward what is inferior to it. It is made to contemplate God, the supreme truth, and it often dallies in error, sometimes obstinately defending the error by every means. It has been said that, if life is not on a level with thought, thought ends by descending to the level of life. All declines, and one’s highest convictions gradually grow weaker.

The intimate conversation of the egoist with himself proceeds thus to death and is therefore not an interior life. His self-love leads him to wish to make himself the center of everything, to draw everything to himself, both persons and things. Since this is impossible, he frequently ends in disillusionment and disgust; he becomes unbearable to himself and to others, and ends by hating himself because he wished to love himself excessively. At times he ends by hating life because he desired too greatly what is inferior in it.

If a man who is not in the state of grace begins to seek goodness, his intimate conversation with himself is already quite different. He converses with himself, for example, about what is necessary to live becomingly and to support his family. This at times preoccupies him greatly; he feels his weakness and the need of placing his confidence no longer in himself alone, but in God.

…[T]his man may have Christian faith and hope, which subsist in us even after the loss of charity as long as we have not sinned mortally by incredulity, despair, or presumption. When this is so, this man’s intimate conversation with himself is occasionally illumined by the supernatural light of faith; now and then he thinks of eternal life and desires it, although this desire remains weak. He is sometimes led by a special inspiration to enter a church to pray.

Finally, if this man has at least attrition for his sins and receives absolution for them, he recovers the state of grace and charity, the love of God and neighbor. Thenceforth when he is alone, his intimate conversation with himself changes. He begins to love himself in a holy manner, not for himself but for God, and to love his own for God; he begins to understand that he must pardon his enemies and love them, and to wish eternal life for them as he does for himself. Often, however, the intimate conversation of a man in the state of grace continues to be tainted with egoism, self-love, sensuality, and pride. These sins are no longer mortal in him, they are venial; but if they are repeated, they incline him to fall into a serious sin, that is, to fall back into spiritual death. Should this happen, this man tends again to flee from himself because what he finds in himself is no longer life but death. Instead of making a salutary reflection on this subject, he may hurl himself back farther into death by casting himself into pleasure, into the satisfactions of sensuality or of pride.

In a man’s hours of solitude, this intimate conversation begins again in spite of everything, as if to prove to him that it cannot stop. He would like to interrupt it, yet he cannot do so. The center of the soul has an irrestrainable [sic] need which demands satisfaction. In reality, God alone can answer this need, and the only solution is straightway to take the road leading to Him. The soul must converse with someone other than itself. Why? Because it is not its own last end; because its end is the living God, and it cannot rest entirely except in Him. As St. Augustine puts it: “Our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”

sally06_interiorityInterior conversation with God
The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God.

St. Paul says: “For what man knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.” The Spirit of God progressively manifests to souls of good will what God desires of them and what He wishes to give them. May we receive with docility all that God wishes to give us! Our Lord says to those who seek Him: “Thou wouldst not seek Me if thou hadst not already found Me.”

This progressive manifestation of God to the soul that seeks Him is not unaccompanied by a struggle; the soul must free itself from the bonds which are the results of sin, and gradually there disappears what St. Paul calls “the old man” and there takes shape “the new man.”

He writes to the Romans: “I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man; but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind.”

What St. Paul calls “the inward man” is what is primary and most elevated in us: reason illumined by faith and the will, which should dominate the sensibility, common to man and animals.

St. Paul also says: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” His spiritual youth is continually renewed, like that of the eagle, by the graces which he receives daily. This is so true that the priest who ascends the altar can always say, though he be ninety years old: “I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.”

St. Paul insists on this thought in his epistle to the Colossians: “Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him that created him, where there is neither Gentile nor Jew. . . nor barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all and in all.” The inward man is renewed unceasingly in the image of God, who does not grow old. The life of God is above the past, the present, and the future; it is measured by the single instant of immobile eternity. Likewise the risen Christ dies no more and possesses eternal youth. Now He vivifies us by ever new graces that He may render us like Himself. St. Paul wrote in a similar strain to the Ephesians: “For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that, being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth; to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.”

St. Paul clearly depicts in these lines the interior life in its depth, that life which tends constantly toward the contemplation of the mystery of God and lives by it in an increasingly closer union with Him. He wrote this letter not for some privileged souls alone, but to all the Christians of Ephesus as well as those of Corinth.

Furthermore, St. Paul adds: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind: and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth…And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.” In the light of these inspired words, which recall all that Jesus promised us in the beatitudes and all that He gave us in dying for us, we can define the interior life as follows: It is a supernatural life which, by a true spirit of abnegation and prayer, makes us tend to union with God and leads us to it.

It implies one phase in which purification dominates, another of progressive illumination in view of union with God, as all tradition teaches, thus making a distinction between the purgative way of beginners, the illuminative way of proficients, and the unitive way of the perfect. The interior life thus becomes more and more a conversation with God, in which man gradually frees himself from egoism, self-love, sensuality, and pride, and in which, by frequent prayer, he asks the Lord for the ever new graces that he needs.

As a result, man begins to know experimentally no longer only the inferior part of his being, but also the highest part. Above all, he begins to know God in a vital manner; he begins to have experience of the things of God. Little by little the thought of his own ego, toward which he made everything converge, gives place to the habitual thought of God; and egotistical love of self and of what is less good in him also gives place progressively to the love of God and of souls in God. His interior conversation changes so much that St. Paul can say: “Our conversation is in heaven”…

Therefore the interior life is in a soul that is in the state of grace, especially a life of humility, abnegation, faith, hope, and charity, with the peace given by the progressive subordination of our feelings and wishes to the love of God, who will be the object of our beatitude. Hence, to have an interior life, an exceedingly active exterior apostolate does not suffice, nor does great theological knowledge. Nor is the latter necessary. A generous beginner, who already has a genuine spirit of abnegation and prayer, already possesses a true interior life which ought to continue developing.

In this interior conversation with God, which tends to become continual, the soul speaks by prayer, oratio, which is speech in its most excellent form. Such speech would exist if God had created only a single soul or one angel; for this creature, endowed with intellect and love, would speak with its Creator. Prayer takes the form now of petition, now of adoration and thanksgiving; it is always an elevation of the soul toward God. And God answers by recalling to our minds what has been said to us in the Gospel and what is useful for the sanctification of the present moment. Did not Christ say: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.”

Man thus becomes more and more the child of God; he recognizes more profoundly that God is his Father, and he even becomes more and more a little child in his relations with God. He understands what Christ meant when He told Nicodemus that a man must return to the bosom of God that he may be spiritually reborn, and each day more intimately so, by that spiritual birth which is a remote similitude of the eternal birth of the Word. The saints truly follow this way, and then between their souls and God is established that conversation which does not, so to speak, cease.

_________________

* If you’re sensitive to the exclusive use of male pronouns, I share your concern. But it’s not my text to edit.

Jump

giphy

Man’s whole helplessness, indeed, his whole lack of future, yawns open – that is, unless he resolves to jump over his own abyss to God. God’s “thou” is so surpassingly powerful that man, no matter which way he moves, always remains in his clasp. A truce with God is out of the question. You have to stick it out right where you are until you have heard everything. God does not just go his way; he wants to be listened to now, and man has to be all ears. (Adrienne von Speyr)

Suffering servant

downloadOne more passage from Mark Heim’s Saved from Sacrifice. There are a dozen passages I’d like here to reproduce from this insightful book, but I’ll try to make this the final post and encourage you to acquire and read the book for yourself. In this section (from chapter three) Heim continues to trace the development of the theme of scapegoating in the Old Testament and how the Scriptures, though they are “thick with bodies [and] the voices of victims,” expose this economy of violence as bankrupt, even as that economy is adopted within and by Israel’s worship of God (also to be judged in light of the Cross). At times scapegoating is depicted from the perspective of the persecutors, those who employ scapegoating as a means of achieving and maintaining peace, while at other times that same process is described from the point of view of the scapegoat/victim. Heim’s section on Job is one example of scapegoating presented from the perspective of the victim who in Job’s case, argues Heim, is a failed sacrificial event. Here, however, I’d like to reproduce Heim’s treatment of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, which as we know was a source of understanding for the early Church’s understanding of the Cross.

For later Christians the revelation of persecuting sacrifice that is so deep in the Old Testament reaches a special climax in the “songs of the servant” in the book of Isaiah. Here in the figure of the suffering servant we find perhaps the single most prominent scriptural text for early Christian interpretation of the cross… [Heim’s here reproduces the fourth song, Isa. 52.13—53.12, which I’m omitting.]

These words are so familiar, and so freighted with tradition, that it is hard to hear them say anything new. But compare them with the description of the sacrificial scapegoat presented in our last chapter. This passage says concisely in a few sentences all that was contained there. Consider it first not as a mystical job description for a unique messiah, but as an anthropological account of a repeated reality. As Gil Bailie, says, “The Suffering Servant Songs combine two insights: first, that the victim was innocent and his persecutors wrong, and second, that his victimization was socially beneficial and that his punishment brought the community peace.”

This is presented in great detail. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him.” The persecuted one is likely chosen from the marginal or those whose appearance is marred, and so is more easily rejected. “He was despised.” The person chosen is without supporters, isolated and abandoned. “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.” The victim has been chosen and will suffer because of our problem, our collective disease of rivalry and conflict. The impetus comes not from some offense in the victim but from a need in us. “Yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God.” We thought this, but we were wrong. Though the problem is ours, we believed it was this one who was the cause, this one who was hated by God, this one who deserved the Job and the Joseph and the Abel treatment.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions.” In fact, it is because we could not maintain peaceful relations that we require a sacrifice. We wound because of our iniquities. And wounding is another iniquity. “Upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” We are actually reconciled and freed by this violence, even though the victim is wrongly charged and we are the actual guilty ones. Hating together unites us, strops our divisions. What hurts him helps us. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” We are all involved. We do this together; we have all turned to scapegoating. “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.” The entire procedure by which we carry out this killing may claim to have some moral basis, but there is no justice in it.

This is about as clear as it can be about religious scapegoating violence. It is an unequivocally bad thing, with undeniably good results. To perceive this sacrificial mechanism in others is unusual, a breakthrough. To face it explicitly in our own behavior may be, literally, miraculous.

Of course, there is another element in the text, expressed most powerfully in two lines: “And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” and “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.” Otherwise the passage is giving an uncannily clear description of violent sacrifice as the unjust if fruitful persecution of an innocent victim, wrongly attributed to God rather than to our own evil. But these lines appear to turn around and say it is all God’s idea after all.

The different biblical voices we have been examining in various ways exposed and criticized this foundational religious dynamic, and set God against it. The trail of attention to scapegoats in the Bible leads to this moment of blinding clarity about what is going on. And at this point, it seems, the writer blinks, and in a few words draws the whole thing back under divine authorization. That long struggle to hear the voice of victims backslides into a passive acceptance, the surrender of a crushed Job who mumbles that it must be right after all.

Is that what’s going on? No. But let’s suppose for a moment that it were. If we stop there, we still have something completely new. In the past the participants in persecuting sacrifice, including the divine participants, endorsed it as something other than what it actually was. They accepted a mythical account, the validity of the accusations, the guilt of the victim. They did it because they thought it was right. What is proposed in this text would be a knowing acceptance of sacrifice for what it actually is. God knows and we know that it is the evil killing of an innocent, for our own benefit. This is the way the world works. We go ahead anyway. It’s wrong, but useful. This is a God who has read Nietzsche, and agrees.

But this isn’t what the text is saying. The writer is not talking about divine approval for sacrificial business as usual, and the sign is in the way God’s will is distinguished from the will of the persecutors. Isaiah says that we, the sacrificers, esteemed the victim stricken by God. But the whole tenor of the text is that it was wrong to think that. We are the ones who wounded and crushed the scapegoat with our iniquities. If what is being done is so clearly wrong, why would God support it? If it was wrong to think that God inflicted the punishment, what does it mean to turn around and say that God laid on him the iniquities of us all? It can mean only that there are two different things going on. When we inflict our iniquities on the victim, it is not the same event as when God lays those same iniquities on him. The writer of the servant song brings these two together with the suggestion that “the victim was allowed to be struck down by a God who counted his sufferings as an atonement for the faults of the very mob that inflicted them on him.”

imagesGod is doing something different from what the persecutors are doing. The Isaiah text gives us many plain indications of this shift. It ends with exaltation of the servant. And it begins with verses that already presume the vindication of the sacrificed one. “See, my servant shall prosper; / he shall be exalted and lifted up….” The victim’s cause will be upheld, in a way that will startle the nations, “for that which had not been told them they shall see, / and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.” Though what is happening is old and common (even if the blunt description of it is new), this instance of it is going to be dramatically different. It has a purpose counter to, but superimposed on, the standard purpose of sacrifice. This is powerfully reflected in the lines “By a perversion of justice he was taken away. / Who could have imagined his future?” Clearly, those doing the sacrifice do not imagine it, a sign that God is not playing the same game they are.

The text says, “When you make his life an offering for sin, / he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days, / through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.” In other words, when you sacrifice him as a sin offering, it won’t work. Instead of falling into death and oblivion, the servant will live long and see descendants. Through him the will of the Lord – and not the will of his killers – will prosper. The servant will be blessed (“Out of his anguish he shall see light”) and will bless many others (“the righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous”). Traditional sacrifice may accomplish something very real. It may still our strife for a time. One thing it cannot do is make its practitioners righteous, since they must sin to carry it out. Somehow the servant’s death is to save them from what led to the killing.

We can understand this better by comparing the servant in this passage with Job. Job is a full-scale resister to his scapegoating, but the servant is patient, like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb. Job protests his personal innocence while the friends enlist God to argue his guilt, and the outcome is up in the air. The servant songs are crystal clear that the servant is suffering unjustly for other people’s sins, and it is a mistake to think the servant guilty. Job demands some kind of vindication from God. He does have his earthly prosperity restored, but gets no unequivocal verdict in his favor, no reply to his plea for an accounting from God. The entire episode of his suffering is still posed as a test proposed to God by Satan, an episode that turns out to be a test of God too. By contrast the servant song is framed by an affirmation of the victory of the victim. The servant does not protest, because the protest has been heard and validated by God. The song directly proclaims the innocence of the servant and the injustice of the persecution. The servant is in league with God to change this dynamic. This sacrifice is not meant to be one in a long line. The servant is a singular figure, and the effect of his life will be something new: “for that which had not been told them they shall see.” For a beginning, in this picture of the servant, the nations see what they had not been told about their own scapegoating practice.

The servant song tells a story like that of Job, from a different perspective. This time there is no doubt about the scapegoat’s innocence, no doubt about the evil of the suffering inflicted, no doubt whose side God is on. The focus has shifted. Now it rests on the sins of the persecutors, US. Job poses a question: How can God be justified in fact of the arbitrary suffering of a righteous person ganged against by everyone, including God? The servant poses a different question. Assuming that God decides to side with the scapegoat, how can those who do the violence ever be justified? If the first was about how the one can be rescued, the second is about how the man can be saved.

Falling into consciousness

maxresdefaultI’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to each of the presenters at David Bentley Hart’s NDIAS Colloquium “Mind, Soul, World: Consciousness in Nature.” All excellent presentations – and there’s the added benefit in most cases of having the Q&A follow the presentations. Most are on Youtube. One enjoyably provocative presentation was that of Duke’s Warren Professor of Catholic Thought, Paul Griffiths.

Hearing of Paul Griffiths’ view of consciousness being a result or an artifact of the Fall, I wasn’t inclined to find much in his presentation to agree with. But hearing him describe his point of view, I appreciated it a lot. I’m still reflecting on it, but I will say this much – those aspects of consciousness that Griffiths suspects are fallen because they reflect deliberative acts that occur at a distance from an immediately of knowing and which objectify the being of the world over and against the being of the self, needn’t be viewed as artifacts of a fall into consciousness even though such deliberation is something less than ideal.

Consciousness as a deliberative enterprise aimed at constructing an understanding of the self is, it seems to me, God-given in the sense of being the necessary beginning context in which are moved to final rest in God. But it is fall or failure to be finite in this sense. Maximus got it right – we could not be created already in possession of the beatific vision. That vision and the rest it gives are a creative achievement of divine and human cooperation, the end of a certain kind of conscious movement that will surely end when it rests fully in a vision of itself as indwelt in, by and as Christ. What will a consciousness at rest look like? Imagine being conscious of yourself and the world without your identity ever being at stake, without needing to invest a single thought in establishing who you are or having to negotiate your identity in terms of any doubts whatsoever, or in light of survival needs or anxieties about relationships, of motivated by even the possibility of threats or fears of loss, or struggling against the slightest impediment to you fullest, imaginable existence – yourself, whole, at rest, and one with God and all things (as the Christian vision has it). None of the energies of consciousness nor the cognitive powers of perception or imagination will be spent deliberating any of these preoccupations that now consume 99.99% of our attention.

The problems and impediments Griffith points out are themselves best thought of as the structure that makes gnomic (deliberative) willing possible, and that kind of deliberative movement is itself a necessary aspect of a good but finite creation that must “move” (in the Maximian sense) toward deification and final rest. But it’s not an evil or privation of its being to do so, though it is the possibility of evil. So while the aspects Griffiths complains about are not our end as such, they are our God-given beginning and so needn’t be viewed as a primeval fall into consciousness.