Friday, April 22, 2016

Christological Finitude, or Why We Need Horizons

William Stringfellow is one of the greatest prophetic voices of the 20th century. He had a great theological understanding of what Resurrection meant. That is, he understood it as more than life after death, but rather as life overcoming death. This is a deep truth that leads to understanding what a Christian is supposed to be. Stringfellow called this "vocation", namely being freed from the power of death to be a Human being.

However, I'm not sure Stringfellow truly understood what this meant. He got the form right, but his content was off. Stringfellow followed some of his contemporaries who were what we might called dialetical theologians. He thought pretty highly of Barth, but I think he was mostly enamored with the earlier Barth. There was a radical attack upon the presumptions of liberal Christianity. Liberalism was truly a collapse of God into Creation, an attempt to save Christianity from its "cultured despisers".

However, like other dialeticians, Stringfellow swung the other way. He emphasized the total alienness of God, the over-and-above that eclipses all categorizations. Sometimes this can sound like theological atheism, but the point is to attack all presumptions of Human knowledge and understanding. Stringfellow was truly concerned at the racist and arrogant stupidity that followed underneath certain liberal paradigms of social renewal. Stringfellow emphasized the Fall corrupted all of Creation, social institutions included. He accused Liberalism as being Pelagian, a belief that collective organization will right all wrongs.

He's right to critique, but his alternative seems wanting. Stringfellow emphasized the Humanity of Mankind, but sometimes he seems to disconnect the "Word of God" (his favorite phrase for God) from the Man Jesus Christ. Not entirely, but it's unclear what he means exactly. It's also unclear whether Stringfellow believed resurrection meant some kind of embodied return to life after the trial of death. He didn't like to talk about it because he didn't want to distract from the call to live now.

However, what Strinfellow failed to do is properly understand Humanity as it was through Christ. The dangerous, and beautiful, reality about the Christ event is the significance it has for Humanity, complete and total. As many Christians have understood, the series of events that began with the Incarnation transformed everything. This is the fundamental feature about Second Adam typology, the Old Man is transformed into the New. Christ overcomes the Fall of Adam. God conquers Death.

It is in this schema that talk of theosis enters in. This is a buzz-word in some circles, but I don't want to get into that. Perhaps I'll just say it's becoming what Man was intended to be. But it has to take the form of Christ, who crosses the boundaries both natural and unnatural. Our fallenness is conquered, but Mankind is also brought into perfection. In the Garden, Adam was made good, but not yet perfect, not yet mature. In Christ that maturity has come. Our fallenness is overcome and our destiny is made manifest.

But where Stringfellow errs is not seeing this vision of completion. For him, it seems Humanity is limited to the finitude of life in time. Now, Stringfellow saw time as a part of the curse. I don't think so. Rather time, now bound under sin and death, is also a created reality needing redemption, not escape.

I understand what Stringfellow wanted to do. He wanted Man, liberated by God in Christ, to celebrate his humanity. This is truly good. But we ought not to celebrate mundaneness in itself. This horizon is still too low. Yes, there's a joy in the small and simple things. But it's insufficient. We ought not try to content ourselves with finitude as we understand it. Instead, we need to see God's infinite upward call for finite creation. That we can rest in motion, drawn into the beauty of the light, transformed and always transforming.

The practical import of this should be obvious; Christians need to dream big. Every time we hear pettiness justified, or "it's Human nature" to explain cowardice, or we begin to believe that perhaps Man is bad all the way down, we ought to pause. It's a moment to repent. I've heard the Prophet Jeremiah's "The heart is wicked, who can understand it?" translated into "I'm a piece of shit, and so are you". This is a kind of anti-Christ.

I'm not saying to be optimistic. People do all sorts of horrible things, myself included. Rather, let us not rest in justifying it as the feebleness of Man's nature. We have a greater horizon before us. We are not to be judged this reality as some reified standard vis. Lutheran interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, it's a moment for joy.

Personally, I'm in a place where I'm simultaneously doing badly, and yet have never felt more alive. I'm caught in a flux of confusion and insanity, and clarity and hope. It has been over the past few weeks that I've really begun to hear the truth, played over like a symphony echoing through the fabric of creation. My own crimes cannot eclipse the depth of beauty, the glory of grace, that is held out before me. I will not remain as I am, and it is not of my own doing that this path is now before me. "When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself". This is the gospel.

As much as I love Stringfellow, his own solutions many times lack. The horizon of my own being must be constantly being lifted and glorified. Christ has redeemed the whole of Human nature, for you and for me. It sounds rather absurd, but this is a future, not of our own making, but given by God. No matter how much tragedy, no matter how much the powers of this world scheme and congregate, God will laugh at them. He has set His Chosen One on His Holy Hill.

We are weak and fragile creatures and we are finite. We will always be finite. But Christ has lifted up our finitude in ways that will continue to be transcended. As pupils dilate to receive more light, so may our souls dilate to see more of the Father of All Lights. Like the rest of the Creation, I am groaning for the sons of God. Let's not settle, but keep our eyes above. It's the only way to live in the present moment, knowing we truly have a future, much beyond the realm of death. We can marvel over the small things, because the Light illuminates them.

I do not reflect upon this enough, but I need to.

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