Thursday, April 21, 2016

Light of Tabor: The Good News of being in becoming

The beauty of Light is due to the fact that is defies material classification. It is both a particle and a wave, a thing and a movement. In this way we might say that light has its being located in its becoming. As it moves it exists. It's an interesting thing to contemplate.

This is a stretch of a genealogy, but going through Aristotle, our Western notions of the World have remained relatively fixed. I'm not saying that this is not being overcome, and in some pretty substantial ways. What's occurring is what Thomas Kuhn referred to as a "paradigm shift". In terms of theology, T.F. Torrance argued that theology needs to return to its roots and reject the modern project. In scientific paradigms, he believed the Eisteinian revolution was eclipsing the Newtonian status-quo. Einstein allowed for flux and relativity in a way that crashed the stable, machine-like universe. Many Christians still argue from Modernist paradigms, even if they rejected the mainstream of Modernist conclusions. It's why there are so many blogs, centers, etc. about science in the Bible.

In my recent spate of posts I've made comments critical of "Western" this or that. This is a blog so I'm not being specific, but I'm not trashing all developments in Western Europe's philosophical, theological, and intellectual traditions. It's diverse and complicated. I am not anti-Plato, anti-Aristotle, or anti-Augustine, to name a few major figures. They offer some profound insights. What I do reject is the tradition associate with them. As stated before, I am in the process of rejecting Augustinian schemas for understanding God, the world, and ourselves. I have no interest of operating within the Augustinian orbit or defending it.

What I'm getting at is trying to articulate the true good that makes the gospel good. One issue to consider is the premise of limits. Now, as many good pessimists and cynics will snark, utopias are rather unworldly. Utopia is a place of paradise, an image of what could be. The point of Utopias are not to be believed as reality, but icons of a future to direct oneself to. To reject utopia is to, ultimately, crush the Human spirit. This is, in some sense, the bourgeoisie fantasy. This is a seed located in any discourse that defends the "Middle class". It's a controlled state of things.

This is why I've grown to dislike talk of already-not yet in terms of Christian eschatology. As the theology goes, we live in a penultimate state of overlapping worlds. The hope of paradise is tempered by the realities of this world. Thus notions of justice and peace need to be tempered to reflect a world still marred by sin. Of course, this is an Augustinian notion articulated from City of God and other collected letters from Augustine. It's also found in the Realist school of politics associated with Reinhold Niebuhr.

Despite how things seem, I believe theology still remains "queen of the sciences", even if it is ignored. This is not an ideal state, but a statement of fact. People operated their centers of knowledge from their understanding of "divinity". It may be rejected, or that divinity might be placed in strange and bizarre structures. This doesn't mean everybody's worshiping an idol or whatever. But what it does mean is that people function from some unstated starting point about the nature of things, even if its a pragmatic neo-Kantian rejection of metaphysics. Everyone's doing theology if it is anti-theist theology.

The Augustinian, particularly the Niebuhrian strain, has become secularized. It's present in notions about "Human nature" that operate as kind of tropes. The Millenial generation is exceptionally cynical. We might say they reflect a kind of Manichaean understanding of Human nature. There's some ethereal good present in the individual, but people are bad as their norm. This fits into the kind of cynical understanding of politics. Christians, by and large, continue to reflect this penultimate understanding of things. It's the building block of the mild Christendom of the early Middle Ages.

However, Augustine also described salvation as a kind of pilgrimage, from one city to another. Augustine was right, even if his theo-politics was confused and generally understood as very different. I used to be astounded that Charlemagne's favorite book was City of God. I thought to myself, he must surely never read it! That might be true, but I think Charlemagne was not an idiot and could understand major themes through the work. The Holy Roman Empire was, in many ways, trying to build Augustine's penultimate order between this age and the next.

But I want to reject Augustine's static vision and I want to stop talking about living in-between ages. The Bible definite speaks of two ages, but not in the way of overlapping. This is a paradigm applied to make sense of evil still present and the good Christ accomplished. What I want to talk about is a paradigm focused on eschatology. A new age has begun and creation is being transfigured.

I recall seeing a Roman Catholic priest with a Rabbi, and they believed they could get along based on their shared messianism. The only difference was number (one or two). This is utterly absurd, and should pull at the seems of so much already-not yet amillenial thinking. The Incarnation was the event, this was the promise of God's coming. Salvation has come and His name is Jesus Christ. The death, resurrection, and ascension is the act that makes this salvation a reality. Pentecost has occurred and has ushered in our participation into this new world.

Of course, the creation is a shambling wreck, and it hasn't changed since Adam's plunge into darkness. However, the Messiah's coming has changed it. The creation is being restored. History is not some meaningless flux of time, nor is it a necessitated chain upwards. In this way I reject post-millenial thinking as foolish and destructive, and pre-millenialism as confused. However, I reject most forms of amillenialism as developing a justified pessimism. Rather, the world belongs to Christ, and things are being transfigured. What all three views share is a sense that Christ is yet to be manifest, whether He hasn't come or His presence is cheap.

I would still identify as a kind of amillenial and even a kind of premillenial. There will be a future event where Christ reveals Himself with a trumpet shout and the dead shall rise. But the Kingdom come is a reality already present. We are being drawn into the depths of a glorious future. It's this future, Paradise, Eternity, the Christian Utopia, that ought to direct our thinking and all our actions. We ought to build our communities upon this vision of a world being transformed. And even when the dead are raised, this formation will not end. Creation's being is in becoming. Christ's parousia is not the End, except in the sense that those who continue to live according to an age that is dead will cease to be.

Let me say that this is what Origen understood so rightly, despite his inability to escape certain Platonic paradigms. Origen understood the flux of time as meaningful, even if misunderstood as being a kind of curse. Origen understood freedom as necessary to the Creation. In this way, God is always Creator, always resetting boundaries for the Creation, always being able to create greater flourishing. It is in this way we must understand good and perfect. Christ affixes Human destiny to His destiny and thus cancels the way down. Origen didn't understand this, and for this Origenism is rightly condemned. But Origen is one of the greatest Christian theologians. He truly struck the deathblow against Platonism, even if he still failed to overcome it. Origen was he who opened the way for the Cappadocians and Maximus to more faithfully explore the treasures of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We need to appreciate that the Kingdom of God is like Light, a here and a movement towards the Humanity Christ is. He is the First Fruits and we join Him, being transformed. The light that shone on Mt. Tabor, where Christ flashed white like lightening, is the destiny for all mankind. The light that radiates from His Person transforms us into His image, sparkling in true beauty. This is the utopia for all people, that no matter where they are,  Christians must not give up hope. Not for realism, not for pessimism, but to remain hopeful despite current conditions.

It's the weightiness of glory that ought to anchor the Christian. One's being is in becoming, and Christ has been made that path, moving man beyond the limits. God is Infinite is a proclamation that there is no limit that cannot be crossed, altered, or shattered. May the Light of Tabor, the glory of the Christ, open our eyes and begin to transform us into those who can hope for a better future and live in the present. May it make the depths of our hearts more compassionate, and stir our love for God and our neighbors as ourselves.

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