As I have participated in conversations with fellow Christians over the years, it has become strikingly obvious to me that the apparent lack of stability both in nature and within our languages has left people disillusioned. As a consequence many has reacted against the threat of unknowing by naively returning to foundationalistic practices, undergirded by belief in ones own understanding as absolute truth. Although this is unfortunate, it comes as no surprise since a firm ground to stand on is deeply sought after by many in a chaotic world where everything seem to be up for grabs. In this post I will try to develop some thoughts on how this infantile Christianity, although it probably is a necessary step in our development, must be left behind in order for us to receive the nourishment, which is given to us in the shape of ‘solid food’ [1 Cor 3].
As human beings we have a need to cut the underlying reality – the Real – into various concepts. This is a natural and necessary practice since it creates possibilities to perceive the world as ordered, the past as understandable, the future as somewhat predictable and so on. Without these practices of conceptualizing and ordering we simply could not function in everyday life. There is a real problem lurking under the surface though, quite literally, because if we forget that humans within history has created our concepts and the ways we order them, then we also forget the excess of meaning and the endless possibilities hidden and suppressed beneath the face of the deep.
The issue I want to address is not that we receive a conceptual understanding from our elders, that some of us creates new concepts which we then collectively pass on to future generations or that the sense of our concepts shifts in each moment of becoming. What I would like for us to direct our attention towards is rather the forgetfulness that becomes apparent when we begin to see our concepts as static universals, and I would in particular want to relate this discussion to the discourse of theology.
Expressing thoughts about God is always a dangerous endeavour since every word must be weighed carefully in order for us to say something of value while avoiding the idolatrous practice of elevating the particular to the level of the universal. Idol towers, whether they are made of bricks or words, are often attractive because of their reductive simplicity which makes that one expresses or adores comprehensible, but as with many of the great monuments of the world – the Chinese Wall, the Pyramids, Manhattan, etc., there lies thousands of silenced voices beneath the ground on which they are built. The idolatrous is irresponsible, self-serving and closed minded, static, dualistic and oppressive. It strives to appear as brave and proud but is actually shaped by its fears since it is afraid of the endless opportunities that reside beneath its frozen surface of the sea of possibilities. Consequently the idolatrous life depends heavily on the suppressing of differences and it desires to overtake rather than embrace the Other. It is further deeply competitive and its emphasis on being victorious allows for violence to define what it means to love.
In contrast to the idol there is the icon, which in Jean-Luc Marion’s insightful words ‘recognizes no other measure than its own and infinite excessiveness´. He goes on by saying that ‘whereas the idol measures the divine to the scope of the gaze of he who then sculpts it, the icon accords in the visible only a face whose invisibility is given all the more to be envisaged that its revelation offers an abyss that the eyes of men never finish probing’. From this follows that the function of the idol is to validate ones own being in the world by allowing for our particular belongings – creed, race, nationality, and so on – to be seen as the universal meaning of existence. Is this deep human longing not what Nietzsche so powerfully gave voice to when he said: ‘If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god?’ Idolatrous faith is thus a conceptual understanding of God that is confined by the limits created by ones own being in the world and I therefore believe that we are wise to join Meister Eckhart in his humble prayer; ‘God, rid me of God’.
To be rid of God is to live with one’s face unveiled, not in order to reach a universal understanding of God, nor of the world, but so that we may continuously probe the bottomless depth in that which is visible to our eyes:
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image [eikōn] from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. [2 Cor 3.18]
The aim of the theological discourse is to be transformed by our participation in the divine life – to become icons of God for the world to see, from one degree of glory to another, in an endless flow of divine love. The life of faith is thus a movement and we must be careful not to rush ahead, rather we should want to find ourselves in a rhythm where the divine speaks through our lives and where our actions and words becomes creative ways of expressing that which has been spoken to us. We should therefore allow for the events of divine revelation to function as a hammer that disrupt our motion through life by cracking the shells of the concepts that we have received and with which we have ordered the world and used in our attempts to speak of God.