Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘will’

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51DbURBevhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings, trans. by Oliver Davies (London: Penguin, 1994).

Meister Eckhart was a 13-14th Century German Dominican scholar and mystic, tried for heresy in his own time, though perhaps more due to “the political machinations of the age” (xvii) than Eckhart’s teaching itself. However, though I have found much that is beautiful and insightful, my Barthian background makes me especially wary of Eckhart’s theology of the soul and some modalist tendencies throughout these works.

Nonetheless, here are some devotional goodies:

When we go out of ourselves through obedience and strip ourselves of what is ours, then God must enter into us; for when someone wills nothing for themselves, then God must will on their behalf just as he does for himself” (3).

If someone were to go entirely out of themselves with all that is theirs, then truly they would be so rooted in God that if anyone were to touch them, they would first have to touch God” (20).

It can be very destructive if we regard God as being distant from us since, whether we are far from or near to him, he is never far from us and is always close at hand. If he cannot remain within, then he goes no further than the door” (28). This is probably my favourite one.

All gifts which he has ever granted us in heaven or on earth were made solely in order to be able to give us the one gift, which is himself” (40).

I am so content with what God might do to me, give me or withhold from me that I would not pay a penny for the best possible life which I could conceive for myself” (50).

Now our Lord says: “Whoever renounces anything for me and for my name’s sake shall receive a hundredfold and eternal life’ (cf. Matt. 19:29). But if you give it up for the sake of the hundredfold and of eternal life, then you have renounced nothing” (120).

For someone who loves God, it would be just as easy to give up the whole world as it would be to give up an egg” (126).

[Y]ou should not confine yourself to just one manner of devotion, since God is to be found in no particular way [i.e., a specific devotional activity], neither this one nor that. That is why they do him wrong who take God just in one particular way. They take the way rather than God” (191).

If we are to have true poverty, then we must be so free of our own created will as we were before we were created. I tell you by the eternal truth that as long as you have the will to perform God’s will, and a desire for eternity and for God, you are not yet poor. They alone are poor who will nothing and desire nothing” (204). Eckhart is here underscoring the absolute passivity that characterises doing God’s will.

[I]f I say that ‘God is good’, this is not true. I am good, but God is not good! In fact, I would rather say that I am better than God, for what is good can become better and what can become better can become the best! Now God is not good, and so he cannot become better. Since he cannot become better, he cannot become the best. These three are far from God: ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘best’, for he is wholly transcendent” (236). Obviously Eckhart stated it like this to prick some ears. What he means is that God is so infinitely beyond us that to call God “good,” even “best,” is to define God by our own categories and thus posit something in place of God.

If you could ever have enough of God, so that you were contented with him, then God would not be God” (237).

On deification:

All that God does and all that he teaches, he does and teaches in his Son. When God sees that we are his only begotten Son, then God presses so urgently upon us and hastens towards us and acts as if his divine being were about to collapse and become nothing in itself so that he can reveal to us the whole abyss of his Godhead, the abundance of his being and his nature. God urgently desires that this should become ours just as it is his. Such a person is established in God’s knowledge and in God’s love and is nothing other than what God is” (176).

Initially I was quite captivated by the theology of deification running through Eckhart’s writings, but it must be said that I remain hesitant about the intended goal of this, which is to become absolutely one with God in such a way that all distinctions disappear, that is, we no longer distinguish ourselves from God, and neither do we distinguish Father from Son from Spirit, a kind of eschatological pan-monotheism. While there is some biblical precedent for this (e.g. 1 Cor 15:28), other more prominent (?) eschatological images such as banquets, cities, vineyards, etc, seem to affirm multiplicity. Moreover, to receive (and become) “the whole abyss of his Godhead,” God behind God, although positively underscoring God’s infinity and transcendence, I think does not adequately affirm the necessity of Christ and the Spirit to the essence of God (this interpretation is based on other selections of Eckhart’s writings where there is an absolute oneness prior to/above the multiplicity that is Father, Son, and Spirit).

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

https://i.chzbgr.com/maxW500/5571492864/hC45EE67C/

In the process of convincing his audience of the sufficiency of faith after law, Paul presents some interesting critiques. Here is one:

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

(Romans 7:14-20).

Now my biggest difficulty with this psychologically penetrating passage is that Paul separates the will of his mind from that of his flesh. He wills do good, but, as a sinner, he wills to serve his flesh and thus does otherwise. I wonder how much of a separation exists in my own life. If I do something, how accurate is it to claim that I will to do otherwise? Of course, there are infinite factors acting upon a will, and what we name will is not singular but composed of infinite ambiguities and always undergoing changes, however subtle. I can say that reflecting on past actions produces a will that wishes to have done otherwise. Then it pledges to do otherwise should it find itself in a similar situation in future. Yet when in that situation it does not do otherwise. The possible arrived at in reflection bows to the actual of the immediate. Does this capture what Paul is communicating? Does he do evil and say “I do not will this yet I will do it anyway,” or “Some part of me at some time has willed otherwise than I will now”?

Maybe this is a further problem with sin: From the perspective of the sinner the will is obscured and indistinct from good-will. Yet with the redemptive power of the Spirit, the will begins its journey towards completion, that which is willed in reflection consistent with that which is willed in experience (8:5-8; 12:2).

Read Full Post »

“I am convinced that God is love; for me this thought has a primal lyrical validity. When it is present to me, I am unspeakably happy; when it is absent, I long for it more vehemently than the lover for the object of his love. But I do not have faith; this courage I lack. To me God’s love, in both the direct and the converse sense, is incommensurable with the whole of actuality. Knowing that, I am not so cowardly that I whimper and complain, but neither am I so perfidious as to deny that faith is something far higher […] I do not trouble God with my little troubles, details do not concern me; I gaze only at my love and keep its virgin flame pure and clear. Faith is convinced that God is concerned about the smallest things. I am satisfied with a left-handed marriage in this life; faith is humble enough to insist on the right hand, for I do not deny that this is humility and will never deny it.”

Johannes de Silentio¹ in Kierkegaard’s Fear and trembling (p.34)².

* * *

After a slow start in his own lifetime, Kierkegaard’s writings have had a profound effect on secular philosophy. Sarte was influenced by Kierkegaard’s detailings of the the anxiety involved in making choices. Heidegger found value in Kierkegaard’s notion of becoming a self and took a cue from the Dane when he wrote about what it means to exist authentically. More generally, a reader conversant in postmodernism will find ideas in Kierkegaard’s writings which inform their own, like the many explorations of the subject’s relation to truth. But reading Kierkegaard, a professing Christian himself, also has deep religious value. Martin Buber saw this and, so I’m told, Karl Barth.

This was my experience in reading Fear and trembling again recently. It was my third time and I’ve hopefully come a long way since that first fateful attempt to read philosophy without any background. I can even say that I arrived at places which allowed me to see holes in the philosophy I hadn’t seen before. One example which you may have noted in reading the quote above is Silentio’s reverential insistence on the im/possibility of faith. Kierkegaard, possibly quite ironically, writes Silentio as seeing faith higher than love, contra Paul (1Cor 13:13) and Jesus (Mat 22.37-40)³. Not only that, but faith in Fear and trembling has been elevated to such a height that it is only attainable by the few.

* * *

Quite serendipitously I have enjoyed the coincidence of formulating an important question on the nature of prayer during my re-reading of Fear and trembling. In my own prayer life and the thoughts surrounding it, the problem of whether petitionary prayer should be humble resignation to the will of God or bold, childlike requests returns perennially. If I’m applying for a job (*mumble, cough, etc*) do I submit to whatever may be as a the outworking of the will of God (I don’t get this job but another opportunity presents itself) or do I daringly believe and receive from the Lord this job I have applied for? But Camo, the two can exist beside each other! Yes reader, but only to an extent. The moment I subtitle my prayer for this application with “but only if it’s your will” is the moment I throw away everything I just asked for. How? It demonstrates my conception of God as a being who is ultimately indifferent to particular requests. What if God’s will was not something we adhered to but that which we took active, constructive participation in?

I had this conversation with our new youth pastor last night to see what his thoughts were on it. The most difficulty I have with this idea is due to Jesus’s words in Matthew:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

(6:7-10, NRSV)

If the Father knows what we need and we’re praying generally for his will to be done, then what use is prayer!? Is it just a gesture, some awkward conversation to make when you have nothing else to say? But my friend pointed me to the crux of what Jesus is saying here. It’s not a blind acceptance of reality in line with God’s will but a pointing to the God at the center of our prayers. If we displace this center then our prayers become just the expressions of our selfish desires. I’m not saying that we can no longer consider ourselves in centered prayer — the job may be close to home and have convenient working hours for your lifestyle — but that centered prayer brings our own bold requests into the greater context of the Kingdom of God: What we expect and ask for, we do so with the trust that we are taking part in the co-construction of God’s plans and their fulfillment4.

http://cheezburger.com/4707153664

Is this what Jesus meant when he gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, with authority to loose and bind on earth and heaven (Mat 16:19)? My friend gave examples of Jesus’ teaching on prayer:

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

(Mat 7:7-11 NRSV)

In Luke, Jesus goes even further, speaking on the need for persistence in prayer (18:1) and going as far to ironically compare God with an unjust judge (vv.2-8) and an angry neighbour (11:5-8). I have written elsewhere about this, looking at examples such as Abraham beseeching God to withhold judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20ff).

* * *

How does this relate to Fear and trembling? Silentio’s understanding of the spheres of existence are applicable to this model of prayer. In short, possibly erroneous terms, three spheres are referenced in Fear and trembling, the aesthetic, ethical and religious. The mysterious ‘A’ explores the aesthetic in Kierkegaard’s Either/or, although this may be quite different to the way Silentio understands it.  My understanding of the aesthetic is to live for yourself according to your own desires without a lot of care for God or others. The ethical is quite the opposite, almost equivalent to the idea of law in Christian theology (I do, however, admit the massive space for interpretation of ‘law’). To live ethically is to live responsibly, with thought of others’ needs and social contracts, generally putting those before your own (There is a more specific Hegelian definition Kierkegaard is referring to but I’m not yet familiar enough with it!). In Either/or, Judge Vilhelm answers A by saying that to live ethically is the only way to be truly aesthetic, to have peace with God and your community. The religious does not appear in Either/or but it can be understood as a return to the aesthetic through faith. In Fear and trembling, the religious person, or ‘knight of faith’ is the one who seeks not their own or another’s good but the good of both God and their self. Just with that formulation a lot of people will immediately have problems. Who is this Silentio and why is Kierkegaard corrupting the youth through his bad theology? The formulation is based on the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac: Abraham cannot sacrifice Isaac aesthetically because he wants to have descendants. He cannot do it ethically because it will destroy his family. He can only do it religiously, because God commands him, without explanation, to do it.

Silentio goes on to compare Abraham’s sacrifice to Jephthah’s (Jdg 11), who made a rash vow to sacrifice the first thing coming out of his house when returning home if the Lord gave him victory against the Ammonites: “What good would it be for Jephthah to win the victory by means of a promise if he did not keep it — would not the victory be taken away from the people again?” (p.58). Jephthah can justify his sacrifice to the people but Abraham cannot. His is, as far as they know, arbitrary and downright evil (not that there is a non-evil form of sacrifice). There is an important idea Kierkegaard develops in what is required for sacrifice: resignation. This is what makes the ethical higher than the aesthetic. A possible aesthetic Jephthah would just say, “Screw you guys, I won the battle but now I will defy God and keep my daughter.” But the ethical Jephthah tragically gives up his daughter (figuratively everything) for the greater good of the community of which he is a part. He fully surrenders himself to God and people (or God through people). Silentio makes the point that this is not, however, unpraiseworthy. In Kierkegaard’s trademark denunciation of the society of his day he writes of the monastic life:

To enter a monastery is not the highest, but by no means do I therefore believe that everyone in our day, when no one enters the monastery, is greater than the deep and earnest souls who found rest in a monastery.

(p. 100)

Veng Abbey Church, on the site of the old Veng Abbey. Protestant Northern Europe generally found other uses for their monasteries after the Reformation. Kierkegaard's snide comments about monasteries, expressed by more than one of his pseudonyms, may be indicative of general Protestant rejection of monastic life during his Zeitgeist.

Veng Abbey Church, on the site of the old Veng Abbey. Protestant Northern Europe generally found other uses for their monasteries after the Reformation. Kierkegaard’s snide comments about monasteries, expressed by more than one of his pseudonyms, may be indicative of general Protestant rejection of monastic life during his Zeitgeist, as much as he tried to distance himself from that culture.

The monastery here is a symbol for resigning all worldly ambition and asset to God. For Silentio, to renounce everything is not as high as faith, but it is still an admirable, even a necessary step on the road to faith. What, then, is faith? Faith is that which gives everything to God and then asks for it all back. For Silentio, this is the paradox of Abraham: He finally receives from God the promised heir through which his descendants will come and then God asks him to get rid of him! Abraham’s faith is in simultaneously giving Isaac up to God and trusting God to stay true to his promise.

* * *

This is where Kierkegaard meets my thoughts on prayer: The aesthetic, ethical and religious line up roughly with different ways of praying. To pray aesthetically is to ask God to meet your own needs without much thought of him or others (cf. the prayers Bruce is asked in Bruce Almighty like winning the lotto). To pray ethically is to pray just that the Lord’s will be done, to give your whole life to him by qualifying all your requests with “but only if it’s your will”. To pray ethically is not a bad thing and it is a necessary area to move through and return to continually through your walk with God. To pray religiously, in faith, is to give yourself fully to God but dare also to receive that which you ask for.

* * *

¹Number one rule of Kierkegaard scholarship: Don’t talk about Kierkegaard. Or, do so but keep in mind that he constructs characters who may have views differing markedly from his own.

²Kierkegaard, S. (1983). Fear and trembling/Repetition (H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (1843).

³Love I believe to be the center of Christian theology and practice, although I don’t make a big case for it here and the two passages need to of course be understood as situated within the wider biblical story. The English words ‘love’ and ‘believe’ are etymologically related.

4Enter the contentious issue of car park theology: How consumerist has our faith become when we start asking God to find us a car park at a mall? Yet this is the very illustration I have been looking for. If car parks are the only thing we ever ask of God then what kind of god is that? But if we pray for car parks within the wider context of participating in the Kingdom of God, if this is just a small expression of the God who is continually making his way into every area of our lives then I don’t only have no problem with it but see it as a positively good thing.

Read Full Post »