Famous last words

commit1On the Cross, Jesus dies. But how does he die? The Psalms he read throughout his life are in his head, informing his interpretation of his own suffering, shaping his experience, ‘opening a new and living way through his flesh’ (Heb 10.19-20). That new and living way is here, on the Cross. Christ opens it. His experience of suffering is that way ‘open’ to us – hence our call to participate in its sufferings (pace Moltmann who insists Christ died alone and that our crosses are not a participation in his). We’ve explored Ps 22 (My God, My God, why?), Ps 42, and now Ps 31. From Ps 31.5 Jesus lifts “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” Verse 14 (“I trust in your, Lord, I say ‘You are my God’) is interesting in light of some (including Cyril of Alexandria) who suppose Christ’s use of “My God” instead of “My Father” indicated a loss in him of a sense of the latter and a reduction of his faith to the former, i.e., God had become Christ’s “God” and not his “Father.” But this is nonsense. Even in the Psalms “God” articulates faith and trust. It’s not what one calls God because one is without the belief that God is also Father (cf. Jn 20.17, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”).

I present Ps 31 here in its entirety because from it Christ takes his last words (“Into your hands I commit my spirit,” v. 5). We know this psalm, along with Ps 22 and Ps 42, are where Christ went in his darkest hour to define himself. The contexts explain why Christ came here to die – and there is nothing of the despairing modern pathology that understands the Cross as divine withdrawal or abandonment.

Psalm 31 (NRSV)

1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD.
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities,
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
17 Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD,
for I call on you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be stilled
that speak insolently against the righteous
with pride and contempt.
19 O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you,
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of everyone!
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
from contentious tongues.
21 Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as a city under siege.
22 I had said in my alarm,
“I am driven far from your sight.”
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all you his saints.
The LORD preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD.

Soren got it

pearlBasically everything we’ve been trying to say about the unbroken nature of Christ’s knowledge of the Father’s affection throughout his suffering and its saving-transforming power in us:

“When around one everything has become silent, solemn as a clear, starlit night, when the soul comes to be alone in the whole world, then before one there appears, not an extraordinary human being, but the eternal power itself, then the heavens open, and the I chooses itself or, more correctly, receives itself….” (SK)

That happened on the Cross – for all of us.

Thank you Soren Kierkegaard – you genius you.

The myth of ‘divine withdrawal’

Recent conversations bring me back to this truth: The scandal of the Cross is that it is not the narrative of (divine) withdrawal that many make it out to be. I’m convinced the time has come to withdrawal from all talk of divine withdrawal, to abandon all talk of divine abandonment, and to forsake the myth of godforsakenness.

“The Cross is a narrative of approach, of nearness, of presence. It is where God, in the full simplicity of triune love, insists upon being with us, thus judging (viz., rendering) all narratives of divine withdrawal, from within the circumstances that create those narratives, to be myths and fabrications of despair and dereliction. The real ‘cry of dereliction’ (as theologians have named it) is not that cry Jesus utters on the Cross (“My God, My God! Why?”). On the contrary, the real cry of dereliction is ours: “Crucify him!” There is the only despair and dereliction connected to the Cross, the dereliction that hangs Jesus on it, while the only real sanity in view is Jesus’ confidence in the Father’s love. The dereliction is heard in a thousand other cries – cries that give up altogether, but also cries that scream their despair all the louder. Much of our despairing dereliction gets published as Christian theology.”

An Open Orthodoxy

crucifixionWhy the gruesome picture? Because sometimes theology gets in the way.

I continue to contemplate the crucifixion. Where was God? What was he up to? What was his part in this? What happened there that day which God gives to faith to perceive that so radically transforms the world? God-talk these days is full of references to ‘divine withdrawal’, and to the Cross as the quintessential manifestation of divine withdrawal. I’d like to reflect here a bit upon that idea.

• If we understand God to be inseparably present to creation (as its creator and sustainer – a fairly unobjectionable reading of Scripture), then talk of God “withdrawing” from can only be a figurative expression for the phenomenological aspects of our suffering. We experience ourselves and the world in ways we explain by removing God from the scene. If God were “here,” here would be different that it is, so…

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Editing yourself

edit1

I’ve posted a lot about the Cry of Dereliction, where Jesus, on the Cross, cries out (Ps 22’s opening line): “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” I’ve often expressed why we ought to reject the view (of Moltmann and others) that the Father in fact abandoned Jesus, the understanding that what gives the Cross its power to save is not Jesus’ enduring our abandonment of him but the Father’s own abandonment of him, not what we did to Jesus but what God did to him, and thus Jesus’ loss of identity and assurance of filial affection. In focusing on Ps 22, however, I never noticed Ps 42. Dwayne brought Ps 42 to my attention this morning, and I’m shocked.

Psalm 42 (NRSV)

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
     so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
     for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
     the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food
     day and night,
while people say to me continually,
     “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
     as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,[a]
     and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
     a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my help [6] and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
     therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
     from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
     at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
     have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
     and at night his song is with me,
     a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock,
     “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
     because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
     my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
      “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my help and my God.

Like Ps 22, this is the heart-cry of an innocent person victimized by the crowd. You can hear the crowd hurling insults, asking “Where is your God?” Even the psalmist asks God, “Why have you forgotten me?” Ps 22 all over again. But this can hardly mean the author believes God to have turned his back on him.

On the contrary, everything about the psalm presumes the conviction in God’s presence. Indeed, no one who believes God has forsaken him takes the time to complain to God, for to lament or complain to God is to address him, to believe he hears. The language of the heart in its outcry offers the pain it has, but this is not to despair in believing oneself abandoned by God.

The psalmist addresses himself, speaks to his soul, even edits his own complaint. “By day God commands his love and at night his song is with me” (v. 8) is followed immediately (v. 9) by “I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” only to conclude “Why are you downcast O my soul? Hope in God!” Thus the author occupies a place, a perspective, that has not itself fallen under the spell of the lie of godforsakenness, a perspective from which he addresses himself, “Why are you downcast? Why do you feel forsaken?” What must we be to be able to thus address ourselves in such a manner? This is the person as a window open upon and within the transcendent, given by God, not constructed by us from resources provided by anything in this world. This is our givenness as such, and the Cross reveals it authoritatively, finally. Jesus on the Cross could have as easily quoted from Ps 42 as from Ps 22. They are identical frames of reference, both written from the Void.

Even if we must suffer our way through a thousand false avenues and dead ends to discover it for ourselves, ‘Abba, Father’ remains our deepest and truest identity, that which speaks us into being, even in the dark night of the soul. There is no conceivable way God can forsake that, for to exist – to be at all – is to be given, to be spoken into being by God, to be his very speech, and that places us in the most intimate immediacy with and in God. The Cross, then, is a narrative of presence, not of absence, even if it is presence within absence.

You keep thrillin me

bernini

Here we are — alone. It’s just you and me.
It’s cool when we out on the town, but I love our privacy;
I need your presence to myself, guess I’m selfish,
But your love breaks me outta my shell like a shellfish.

Feelin’ you so much I can barely stand it,
All of my being — you understand it, you command it;
Talk to me softly, even when you’re killin’ me,
I feel no fear, the way you keep thrillin’ me.

Intimacy unparalleled, every moment’s a lifetime,
With you I die a thousand deaths, and you my only lifeline;
Unity with you is my one and only pleasure,
Divin’ deeper into you, lookin’ for my treasure.

(Dwayne Polk)

Face to face, even as I am known

mirror

1Cor 13.12 (DBH translation): “For as yet we see by way of a mirror, in an enigma, but then face to face; as yet I know partially, but then I shall know fully, just as I am fully known.”

I’ve lately been pondering just what Paul proposes as the object of our knowledge here. I grew up thinking something like this – ‘I know God partially (not fully) now, and someday I’ll know God just as completely as he knows me’. I took the ‘just as’ to measure the completeness or depth of the knowledge and God as the object known. And since God’s knowledge of me is utterly exhaustive, I looked forward to the day when I’d know him ‘just as’ he knows me.

I’m thinking now this is probably not what Paul had in mind. I suspect that it was his own self which he confessed to knowing partially and so his own self he looked forward to knowing completely, as God knows him. The fact that he compares this knowledge to that which we gain ‘by way of a mirror’ suggests as much. It is ourselves, not others, we behold in mirrors. We should also pause here to appreciate that mirrors then did not yield the near perfect, high-resolution reflections we enjoy today. They were cloudy and imperfect. In antiquity there was no way a person could see him/herself with anything like the clarity and exactitude with which people beheld others. How different ‘self-perception’ and even our very relationships have been affected by the modern advancement of quality mirrors and photography. Today you don’t need others in order to gain an appreciation of your own image; you can look into a mirror or take a selfie and have a perfect image instantly.

What I’m wondering is:

(1) Do you agree that what we know partially now (and completely later) is in fact ourselves?

(2) Depending on what we understand the object of knowledge here to be, what’s the larger point? If ‘self-knowledge’ is in view, how’s that impact Paul’s point in the chapter?

The fact that the main point has to do with ‘love’ makes interpreting this as ‘self-knowledge’ a bit odd. I’d expect the knowledge to be outward, knowledge of others. But I can’t construe it as our coming to know God as completely as God knows us. And if the ‘face to face’ knowledge which will also be ‘knowing as we are known’ is our ‘knowing ourselves as God knows us’, that does change how the passage is understood.

If the ‘depth’ of knowledge is not the point of comparison, however, perhaps it’s the ‘mode’ of knowledge that’s in view, i.e., ‘face to face’ (unmediated presence/knowledge) as opposed to ‘by way of a mirror’ (partial, mediated knowledge). But this seems strange too, for ‘face to face’ describes a mode of relation/knowledge that is other than ‘by means of a mirror’, and if self-knowledge is what’s in view, what’s the switch from ‘by means of a mirror’ to ‘face to face’ even suggest? Self-knowledge is already by definition a kind of unmediated knowledge in which ‘face to face’ and ‘in a mirror’ are essentially the same.

That said, the real (risky) point I want to make is this. I suspect that as we are known is not particularly a reference to God’s knowledge of us at all, but to the immediate (unmediated) mode in which others know us. This whole context (mentioning prophecy, gifts of knowledge, etc. which transpire between believers) is about human-human knowing and relations. If we can’t imagine knowing anything as completely, fully, and exhaustively as God knows that thing (including ourselves), then perhaps the point here is that someday our knowledge of each other will be free of the limitations and ambiguities that constrain us now (hence our need for prophecy and other gifts). But someday such limitations (and the gifts they occasion) will be eclipsed by a more direct face to face knowing (immediate presence) of one another.

Ideas?

Like a Ducati

ducati

Spirit like a symbiote, permeating my body,
Give me inner strength like doing spiritual pilates,
Flowin’ in the Spirit, ridin’ low like a Ducati,
Taste and see the Lord is good, betta than manicotti.

Lord, preserve my sanity, cuz we live in an asylum,
We some crazy species, think we need another phylum,
The President speaks stacks of lies, and the people pile ‘em,
Evangelicals past and present, cannot reconcile ‘em;

Me and broski just stay focused, going for the long run,
If you lookin’ for some fake believers then you done found the wrong ones,
Drunk in the Spirit, you’d think that we had some strong rum,
Strength is in our weakness, we only stand in the Strong One; the…

World may find me bat-ish crazy, but just look at my surroundings,
People layin’ foundations without inner grounding,
Even as climate change prepares to give us a poundin’,
Lord, I pray we fall forever in your River, drownin’.

(Dwayne Polk)