April 20, 2014


Obedience to the unenforceable is a statement of grace as old as the bible. (Peter Sellick, June 09, 2003, Online Opinion)
Let us tell a different story. The man Jesus pushes against the powers of his day (and ours) that bring bondage to human beings. These are the "principalities and powers" of the world, not least of which are the religious powers. These powers respond in fear and dread and rig his trial, convict him of blasphemy and deliver him over to a criminal's death. He does not resist but allows them to do their worst. Afterward it is found that the one who was judged becomes the judge. Through the nailing of the body of Jesus to the cross we find that human sin, that we have encountered so graphically in Romans chapter 8, has been judged. The tables have been turned, Christ is vindicated, and the religious authorities, or, to universalise, the unruly passions of the human heart, are crucified. This realisation and its eternal (rather than secular) nature is the meaning of the resurrection. The crucified one becomes the source of human freedom from the death-dealing powers of the world.

Christians henceforth talk about being crucified with Christ and rising with him to a new life in which sin is put to flight. It is thus not knowledge that saves us from the turmoil of the inner person but an event in history, the affect of which rolls down the ages to us. This opens the way to an effective religious practice that looks with hope for change in the inner person; the transformation of our desire. It is only then that we find that the law hasbecome irrelevant.

This is the only way that I know in which the unenforceable becomes the force that transforms ourselves and our society. It does so by tutoring the heart in desire. Its nature in the world is such that it cannot be controlled or imposed because it is grace and not law. Neither can it be foisted upon another party by those who do not themselves take it as a serious challenge to their lives. In other words is belongs to the provenance of God.

Why is this proposition not taken seriously in our present time and society? It does not invoke discredited notions of the miraculous or the supernatural and therefore cannot be refuted by today's scientists. Neither does it recommend uncritical belief. Rather, it is an argument based on a particular interpretation of an historical event. We are used to those. We look at the holocaust and wonder about the nature of Western civilisation in which a nation immersed in Christianity and high culture can carry out such an abomination. No one calls such exploration "religious" and therefore to be left to the privacy of the believer. Indeed such arguments are taken very seriously in our academe. The crucifixion of Jesus and the holocaust both speak about the contents of the human heart and how those contents cannot be trusted to guide our actions even when, perhaps especially, they are dressed up in the clothes of religious authority or of blood and soil. However, such is the tenor of the times, one is deemed to be religious and the other secular. One is given no credence in the public sphere and the other much.

This bias is based on the popular notion that religion has to do with the supernatural, however the basis of theological thought is not the otherworldly, the ghostly and the ghastly, but the world of the past as it impinges on the present. The theological science is an historical science that illuminates the present. The genius of the nation Israel lies in the way it refused religious fancy and instead plumbed the depths of meaning of events in history and in the way it created legends that interpreted the world aright. That is why both the Old and New Testament are occupied with events in time even when the literary genre is that of legend.

It seems old-fashioned and a little bit na•ve to say that our affections are changed when we read the stories from the bible. But that is just what the church professes. But how else are our lives formed but by narrative, we live in an "enstoried" universe. The biblical stories are stories that were selected because they accurately interpret our lives and our place in the world in relation to the person next to us. This is why these writings are the centre for preaching. They are a rich source because they are not simple morality tales but stories that evoke and puzzle and lead us on into an unknown reality that would be hidden from us if we did not have them. In that way they enable us to transcend our narcissism and turn to the person next to us and see them for the first time. This is the basis of a civilised society in which secular law is enforced rarely because responsibility and
peaceableness has been written on the hearts of the citizens.

This too is the crux upon which the possibility of human freedom hangs. For if we can not and/or do not internalize certain limitations upon our own desires then we create a society in which those limitations will be enunciated, imposed, and enforced entirely by the state. To date we man has come up with no equally effective means of restricting the self, as the great monotheistic religions, yet modern men reject those religions. And so, wittingly or un, they fling themselves into the eager embrace of the state. [Originally posted: June 10, 2003]
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Posted by at April 20, 2014 5:01 AM

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