Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Christ needs your suffering

You'd think clergy would have the whole faith thing figured out. Quite the opposite, those of us who take it seriously find ourselves in an ever deepening mess. Sometimes I think growth in faith is a continuing deconstruction of what you thought you knew. An unrelenting mortification of the soul.

So lately, I've been on this mystical bent, not quite sure why, combined with a reviving social justice orientation. But Lord have mercy, I'm such a hypocrite, I believe in social justice much more than I actually practice it.

When you take faith seriously, theology seriously, sometimes you have to release cherished notions. I used to think, for example, that Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins. That somehow Christ did something towards God in his death that was necessary.

But I don't really think that any more. I tend to think Christ's sacrifice was more for us and towards us. He made a sacrifice for his mission, which was in the direction of life for humanity, not blood for God.

Suffering with Christ

More recently, I've started to doubt whether it is sufficient to claim, as many of us bleeding heart clergy do, that Christ comes alongside us in our suffering. We've got this nice pious notion that God never abandons us in our suffering, but goes through the valley of the shadow of death with us.

Surely (hopefully/possibly) God does, but it seems there is more to it than that. It was refreshing and helpful, therefore, to read a recent biography of Dorothee Sölle, in which Renate Wind, summarizing Sölle's development of Christology from her Christ as representative to Christ in solidarity, writes:
Christ is not merely the one who shares compassionately in people's suffering; rather Christ himself needs and hopes for human solidarity with his own suffering. Discipleship is redefined by human solidarity with the suffering Christ (Renate Wind, 87-88).
Christ himself needs and hopes for human solidarity with his own suffering. Discipleship is a response to Christ's desire for this. Lord have mercy. And amen.

Such a Christology helps make sense of what is otherwise an enigmatic little sentence in Paul's letter to the Colossians: I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1:24).

How can Paul (or any of us) complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions, unless in fact part of the Christian walk is being invited into, by Christ himself, Christ's own suffering? It's a fearful notion, rife with all kinds of trouble, but it troubles all the way down, and is clearly biblical. In some sense Christ needs your/our suffering.

Letting God Die

Also this week, I've had the good pleasure of discussing John D. Caputo's new book, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps, with a small group of theology/philosophy geeks. We're taking the book one chapter per week, accompanied by Flying Burritos, and it demands and rewards that kind of attention, but this little quote in the middle of the book caught my attention this week:
God happens, the event insisting in the name of God takes place in the form of a solicitation, a call, to which we are the response, provided that we respond. We may not respond, and then what is lacking in the body of God will go unfulfilled, the event will go unheeded, and we will have ignored the lesson of Martha. We have killed God, cut off the life of God in the soul, as Meister Eckhart said, which is the death of God that really matters. Adieu to God (à Dieu). The name of God is the name of a promise, but promises are only promises if they threaten not to be kept (Caputo, 135).
It would take more than a blog post to explain what Caputo is up to with words like "event," "insist," "call," "promise," but it is the case that Caputo believes there is a way in which God does not exist but only insists, and it is us, those who hear the call inside the event of God's haunting of us, who either do or don't "do" God in the world in response to that call.

Somehow, someway, I think this is correct. To say any less is to let ourselves (and God) off the hook in ways that leave Christian faith basically complicit with bourgeoise sanctimonious apathy.

Somehow so much of religious faith has encouraged detachment, un-caring-ness about the world, rather than deep and painful engagement with the world, illustrated no more succinctly than in the realization that many Christians think faith in Christ is more about eternal life in the future rather than authentic life now.


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