so far away from me

There is, namely, an infinite chasmic difference between God and man.

Practice in Christianity, Hong 63

I have been thinking about transcendence a lot in the last couple of days. I think I have moved to opposite poles on the discussion between knowing God in imminence and God’s complete “otherness”. I was in the “you can know God by reason” camp for a long time. So the task of theology (and apologetics) was to give a reasoned argument for God (like such a thing is possible) and people would see the error of their ways and do what God wants. Or, the other side of the same argument, if we have beautiful churches and divine liturgy, people would be converted.

Experience has taught me that neither of those two positions are valid or viable. The most well argued piece of logic will not create faith. Reason is not beyond faith. And beautiful churches in themselves do not draw people but only the beauty of Him who is present. (The Absolute Paradox is part of my movement away from imminence.)

I know I have been influenced in that move by reading Kierkegaard. Not so much his theological or philosophical works. But rather his discourses, his “sermons”. I find these full of grace and love – allowing God to be God. And I will write about them in a future post.

But today a quote from Practice in Christianity. I like how Kierkegaard says it: “infinite chasmic difference”. God’s love is what “motivates” Him to move close to us. And even my desire to know Him is God reaching out – He has placed the longing for Him in my heart.

I find it a very comforting thought that God has reached out (and reaches out everyday) to me personally. It is only in God’s free choice to come near to me, in love and the Absolute Paradox, that I can know Him and have a relationship with Him. So God by nature is completely other but in love is close to me.

Doubting Thomas?

Today is Low Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. The traditional gospel for today is about Thomas’ doubt. Our Vicar preached a good sermon on how it is not really Thomas’ doubt that God draws our attention to in this gospel but rather the apostles’ failure to proclaim and embody their faith. I thought it was a very good sermon.

Yesterday I started reading a book by Michael Harvey, Skepticism, Relativism, and Religious Knowledge: A Kierkegaardian Perspective Informed by Wittgenstein’s Philosophy. I think I have started it before as there are notes in the ebook. The topic of religious epistemology really interests me. Some of the problems, I think, of modern Christianity centres on a misunderstanding of faith and in particular placing faith within the sphere of knowledge. So, for example, fideism is faith without proof. I think this book makes a number of very good points from a Kierkegaardian point of view about today’s gospel and Christianity as a whole.

So I have three quotes from the Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas:

… what cannot be forgotten is that truth for Christians is not just another object but a concrete person, Jesus of Nazareth.

This point needs to be made again and again. Jesus say “I am the truth” not “I will give you the truth and then you have it apart from me”. Truth for Christianity is a person and not an object – a person who is experienced and encountered but may never be understood.

… To be a Christian, which to be sure involves “believing,” entails an ongoing transformation of the emotions. Such a transformation means to believe in God is to know how to do something. In particular it means knowing how to go on when you often do not know where you are or where you are going. The truth of what Christians believe cannot be separated from who they must be.

Faith is about living – living with hope. Faith is a resolution to “abide in Him” more than a conclusion reached at the end of an argument. The Truth that is encountered in faith makes me a different person – it transforms me and calls me to change every day of my life.

Skepticism arises from our desire to know without the self being transformed. Ironically skepticism is but the result of our anxious desire to secure certainty by being “at home in the world.”

I really like this idea – the search for certainty is a desire to find a home in this world. For Christians “truth” is transcendent and otherworldly because God is transcendent. For science “truth” is imminent and an object that can be measured and described. God is beyond our measuring and defining. So faith is always a leap into the uncertain.

Our modern age holds truth at arms-length and thinks that I can know the truth without that truth changing me. The opposite of faith is not doubt – because that would place faith in the sphere of knowledge – but sin, a refusal to be transformed by Jesus.

existential individual

We are born biological beings but we must become existential individuals by accepting responsibility for our actions. This is an application of Nietzsche’s advice to ‘become what you are’. Many people never do acknowledge such responsibility but rather flee their existential individuality into the comfort of the faceless crowd.

Thomas Flynn, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction.

I remember first reading the above quote and being caught off-guard. The philosophy I had read before that had been western Aristotelian – Thomas Aquinas and the more conservative Roman Catholic philosophers. I read Augustine’s Confessions one Lent and became more interested in Plato and Christian Platonism. Somehow (by God’s grace) I read a few books about existentialism and ended with Kierkegaard. I’ll admit that just being able to spell “Kierkegaard” was a point of pride. I was attracted by Kierkegaard’s view of the self but the Absolute Paradox keeps me reading. But that is for another post!

The above is a thought I have often returned to because it puts it so simply and elegantly. Kierkegaard, of course, would speak of becoming a “single individual” before God. Often in Christian circles I have heard people speak of the evil of modern individualism. I think that is how some people would read the above quote. But the issue with modern individualism (what is that?) is the idea of freedom – someone being free does not mean that their actions are right. Again, for another post!

“Actions and consequences before God” is how I read the quote. (And how I understand Kierkegaard’s “single individual”.) I am responsible for my actions and for my relationship with Jesus. There is no magic formula or secret handshake that creates and keeps me in that relationship. No doctrinal position or liturgical rite will take away from me the responsibility I have before God for my relationship with Him. God makes the first move and reaches out to me. I am called to respond to Him in my particular and individual situation.

Maybe I should write a little about “faith” in the future? But the above is just as true for me in my daily life with depression. The moment I took responsibility for my mental health things changed. I remember crying for the first time during counselling – not hiding the pain behind a mask given to me by the crowd, not allowing the crowd to define me and box me into a role. Finding out what that “me” is has been painful and very hard. And it is a daily struggle not to run back into the crowd and just surrender “me” to a function I have been assigned.

So, anyway, I just wanted to share that quote.

common experience?

One of the strongest memories of my youth is of an orchard next to our house. Maybe it was not really an orchard but more of a hobby garden. at the front of this garden there was an apple tree that grew into the street. My strongest memory of growing up is hiding in the garage and eating the apples on a warm summer afternoon.

green or red? sweet or sour? big or small?

As you read that story (and be honest) what was the image of an apple that you had in your mind? Was the apple large or small? Was it sweet or sour? And was the apple green or red?

For the record the apples were green, small and extremely sour. When I hear the word “apple” that is the image I have in my mind.

So here is the “moral of the story”: can I assume that my experience of the world is anything like your experience of the world? I know I experience the world but can I abstract a common experience from my experience. Or is it an act of faith?

#individual

An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Individuality (or selfhood) is the state or quality of being an individual; particularly of being a person separate from other people and possessing their own needs or goals, rights and responsibilities. The exact definition of an individual is important in the fields of biology, law, and philosophy.

With the rise of existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard rejected Hegel’s notion of the individual as subordinated to the forces of history. Instead, he elevated the individual’s subjectivity and capacity to choose their own fate.

Wikipedia: Individual

tranquilises itself in the trivial

I had some time this morning so I sat down to drink my coffee – rather than do it on the run between various duties. I read Kierkegaard’s world part 8: God and possibility by Clare Carlisle. I think I have read it before. I know I have listened to an audiobook version of the whole series.

I was struck by the following quote:

In The Sickness Unto Death, the despair that lacks possibility is described as ‘spiritless philistinism’, which both “tranquilises itself in the trivial” and “imagines itself to be the master”. In our own world, this takes many different forms: the reduction of spiritual teachings to rigid dogmatism; the commodification of romance; the stifling of intellectual life by a fixation on measurable “skills”, “outputs”, and “impacts”.

Kierkegaard’s world part 8: God and possibility, Clare Carlisle

Since I had a copy of SUD with me, I read the whole section where SK speaks about the imbalance (despair) of possibility and necessity. The psychological insight that SK offers often amazes me.

In my own context I have often been struck by how people will escape into the trivial – minutiae – of a particular issue. And become addicted to their point of view. I am not saying I have been, or am, immune! I like to escape. But my own experience of myself and of other people has really highlighted this “despair” of the actual over the “what could be”.

SO I have set myself a task: start dreaming more! Worry less about the mess and the problems, and start seeing the possibilities of my daily life. And in those possibilities see God working for and in me.

Some SK insights

I read a great article on SK and possibility this morning. It is especially useful since I am reading Sickness unto death. Anyway, here is a quote:

The important step for Kierkegaard is the concept “before God”. This is a Christian concept. He sees this actuality, standing in prayer before God, or becoming contemporary with God, as the highest for any Christian. Here the possibility of the offense is present, and must be ever-present. But here also the possibility of being able to become a believer  is present and is ever present.

SK & Possibility

The great risk in possibility is also the risk in faith.