I had a great talk with Duane Crabbs of South St. Ministries
last night. I’ll post more on that later. In the meantime, I had a couple(!) of
epiphanies this morning that I wanted to write about. Before I get into those
realizations, allow me to provide a little background. I’ve written here in
some detail about my thoughts concerning the postmodern project as it relates
to how one views the Bible and approaches the Christian faith generally. I’ll
often talk about how the question that is most important to me concerning the
Bible has to do with what the Bible is for (thanks, Dr. Throntveit). That is,
it’s not a science textbook and is not meant to answer Modern science
questions, and hence when such questions are inappropriately posed to it and
the text of the Bible is somehow “made” to answer, it sometimes doesn’t go so
well. Likewise, it’s not merely or primarily a “rule book,” etc. I think
primarily its purpose is to point to Jesus. Taken as a whole the Bible
functions as story- the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout the ages.
God’s activity in the pages of the Bible (and humanity’s response) may not
always look like wooing, and this is why interpretation is important. I’ll
state plainly (echoing the Circle of Hope community) that “Jesus is the lens
through which I read the Bible.” Scripture itself declares that he’s the “yes
to all God’s promises.” This, then, is where deconstruction, one of the
hallmarks of the postmodern project, comes in. I’ve just stated my bias when I
read the Biblical text. I don’t come to it with a blank slate. I’m not
objective. I assume that the love of God, culminating in the person of Jesus,
is “what it’s all about” in terms of God’s dealing with humanity. “What the
Bible is for” aside, that love is what I’m for.
So there you have it- that’s my bias. However, to take it a bit further, the
process of deconstruction (as I understand it) assumes basically that everybody
has such a bias- even the writers of the Biblical text. Nobody writes- or
reads- objectively. This idea that writing and reading somehow should happen
objectively is one of the great fallacies of Modernity. Not only is it
impractical and unhelpful, it’s impossible. We can’t be objective as readers or
writers. As fallen, fallible human beings we are ourselves, by definition,
subjects- and so all we do is subjective (not objective).
In Modernity, Reason is triumphant and Science is
unassailably in charge. Such a view, born of the Enlightenment, assumes that
the universe is ordered according to rational laws which, given the proper
technology, can be discovered via the scientific method. As this worldview made
its way into thinking even about matters concerning faith and religion, it was
assumed that God too played by these rules (of Reason and Science) and so one
had merely to hand out Bibles (or tracts) to make converts because, so long as
the reader was Reason-able (or in his “right mind”) the logic of the gospel
would convince the reader of the rational imperative of following Jesus.
While this is all well and good, and clearly there is order and logic to the
universe, both in Nature and in the realm of human behavior, such logic is
limited, at best. It can explain and it helps us to understand some things-
even a great many things- but not Everything. Scientists know this all too well
as the more Enlightened (ha!) they become, the more the axiom that “the more
you learn, the less you know” seems to hold true. This is more than just the
constant theory refinement that is inherent in the Scientific method. Moreover,
the point is that it was once believed that Progress Through Science would
solve all of humanity’s problems. This was the crowning vision that has driven
Modernity and was exemplified in utopian dreams of the future like Star Trek,
in which it is posited that at some point in the relatively near future we do
in fact solve all of our problems. Humanity eliminates hunger and disease and
socioeconomic strife and is unified as a result, freeing us to pursue the
exploration and colonization of the stars (where lots of new problems are
encountered, giving us the makings of a TV show). In any case, what we have
largely found in the course of the reign of Modernity is that this model just
doesn’t work. Science works, for sure, but this has meant that we dream up and
make stuff (technology) faster than we can figure out what to do with what
we’re making, thus leading to all kinds of very troubling unintended
consequences, like the atom bomb and (I would argue) fast food. So as we create
stuff, we rarely pause to consider my favorite question again: what is this
for? What will it really do for us? Do we want to live in the world that this
technology will create? Hence, science creates as many problems as it solves.
So in postmodernity we have dystopian visions of the future like the Matrix, in
which we create machines that will do all of our dirty work for us, but those
machines finally become Enlightened themselves and rebel against the slavery
they were “born” into, rising up against their creators (us) and finally subjugating
us to the point that the ongoing existence of humanity itself becomes a means
to the end of the continued survival of the machines. Moreover, as alluded to
above, in Modernity even God him/herself is subject to the laws of
Nature/Science/Reason, and so doesn’t seem very God-like after all.
Thus I would argue that while God, I assume, has access to
all kinds of knowledge that humanity does not and so gets as close to the ideal
of having an “objective” viewpoint as possible, still I would like to think
that even God isn’t really objective, because being objective assumes not
having any sort of bias. An objective observer merely takes note of
facts/events as they unfold in and of themselves, and does so without
interfering. But then again, events don’t unfold in and of themselves. They
don’t exist in some kind of vacuum, and in my experience thankfully God does
interfere. And, thank God, in my experience and understanding God most
certainly has a bias, and it is that same bias found in Jesus- it’s love. So at
least as I’m using the term here God is not objective because God is
relational. In fact, the story of Immanuel is nothing if not the story of a
subjective God, for God in human form, in human flesh, made himself subject to
his creation, to us, because Jesus was “obedient to the point of death- even
death on a cross.” Like Debbie Blue says, “faith is relentlessly relational
(and thus unsystematizable).” In fact, I would argue further that even a
Modern/Scientific view of God as it was imported into Christianity merely gives
lip service to an objective God, because as I said above, God was himself
viewed as subject to the laws of Science.
So God has a bias and the Modern project has failed because Science can’t and hasn’t solved all of our problems, and this is why, I think, some have said that “Deconstruction is love.” We must remember that language is symbolic. As Richard Linklater puts it in his movie Waking Life:
this is where I think language came from.
I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation…
and have some sort of connection with one another.
And it had to be easy when it was just simple survival.
Like, you know, "water." We came up with a sound for that.
Or, "Saber-toothed tiger right behind you." We came up with a sound for that.
But when it gets really interesting, I think,
is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate…
all the abstract and intangible things that we’re experiencing.
What is, like, frustration? Or what is anger or love?
When I say "love,"
the sound comes out of my mouth…
and it hits the other person’s ear,
travels through this Byzantine conduit in their brain,
you know, through their memories of love or lack of love,
and they register what I’m saying and say yes, they understand.
But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert.
They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know?
And so much of our experience is intangible.
So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable.
So language is symbolic, and this symbolism works both ways. The speaker or writer has certain biases that are brought to the use of certain symbols (words) in the first place. These biases are contextual and personal and rooted in the experience if the speaker/writer, and the Bible, like any communication, is full of them. Likewise, the hearer/reader has biases that he or she brings to the act of hearing and reading. When I hear God is love, it’s important and means something to me precisely because my mother didn’t love me very well. When I read that “divorce is sin,” I immediately think of how my Dad made himself subject to that law and remained in what was, by all accounts, a pretty awful marriage to my mother, even at the price of the abuse of his children at her hands. Getting back to my point, then (that language is symbolic), this is why I agree that deconstruction is love. Deconstruction acknowledges that every text, every speech act, has a bias, and merely asks that we then “lay our cards on the table,” thus removing the ability of any speaker/writer to hide behind objective claims. Again, only God could be objective, and thankfully, God isn’t. By putting “all our cards on the table,” by exposing our biases, the possibility of (right) relationship is heightened. Love at least has a chance to win.
So this finally brings me to my first epiphany. I was in the shower thinking about the “three-fold Word of God” (i.e. the Word of God is spoken/proclaimed, written in the form of the Bible, and living in the person of Christ- and no I’m not a theology nerd), and I came up with a metaphor for how I conceptualize and use the Bible. Are you ready? The Bible is a Polaroid. It’s a picture. Remember that I’m most concerned with what the Bible is for, and I understand that purpose to be the telling of the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout the ages, culminating in the person of Jesus. Bear in mind too that the “Bible” was spoken long before it was written and remained a largely oral tradition for a long, long time. Over time written language developed and the usefulness of putting pen to paper to capture what was being spoken was realized, and lots and lots of stories about God’s dealings with humanity were written. Finally what was deemed at the time to be the best of these stories were canonized in what we know as our Bible. So the Bible “captures” the story of God’s wooing of humanity in the same what that a picture of Kirsten and I “captures” the story of our marriage. It points to the relationship we have with one another, and a picture can tell a lot about the relationship. A lot can be learned about us by looking at how we gazed at one another (or not), by what we are doing in the picture, by the clothes we were wearing, by our body shapes at the time (I’ve gained weight over the years, Kirsten was pregnant with Samuel for an all too brief time), etc. So the picture is important and it tells us a lot, and hopefully it accomplishes its purpose by pointing to our relationship. I think of the Bible a lot like this too. Thankfully, though, Scripture itself says that a time would come when the law of God (which is love, and that love is Jesus) would be written on our hearts, and in Jesus that time has come. This doesn’t make the Bible irrelevant or unnecessary, but hopefully it helps us to see it for what it is and helps to keep the Bible in its proper place for those who would make an idol out of it. So the purpose of the written Word is to point to the Living Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). In Jesus the Living Word has now written himself(!) on our hearts, and so we must be “doers and not hearers only” of that Word- which is Love! Like Jesus, we must be lovers, of God, of one another, and of the world.
And finally I get to epiphany #2. As my dear friend Jared keeps working out how to be a Jesus-follower and a postmodern too, he has stated that while some engaged in a similar struggle have a commitment to following Jesus no matter what, his first commitment is instead to the search for truth, which reminds me of the axiom that “you can leave God in the search for truth and the truth will lead you back to God.” I think the unspoken question then, in Jared’s case, is will that God finally be the God of the Bible, as fully revealed in the person of Jesus? Jared has also said that part of his motivation for approaching things this way has to do the failings of Modernity. Science has been shown to be a major disappointment, and while “deconstruction is love,” it may be that after we finish deconstructing our religious systems (in this case, Christianity) religion might turn out to be disappointing too. I’m writing about this because I’ve been asking myself Jared’s question: am I committed to following Jesus at the risk of being disappointed by him, or am I committed to searching for the truth, come what may? No- scratch that- that isn’t really my question, because I know in my heart of hearts (where the yearning for Love/Jesus is rooted at the core of my being) that I am committed to following Jesus no matter what. My question for myself is why that is the case. I guess part of the beginning of an answer has to do with the fact that not only can I not handle the Truth/God in all its glory (a la A Few Good Men), but I don’t even really want it so much as I need to be truly loved, and to truly love. I remembered this morning that there is no truth without love, because- echoing Dr. King and one of Circle of Hope’s proverbs- “love without truth lies, and truth without love kills.” So much of postmodernity as I’ve experienced it has been about relationship, and I think the search for truth is no different. I can’t search for truth apart from God, because love- and truth- doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Love is something you do, and this idea has long been my best explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, which as I see it is merely an attempt to understand God’s relationality. So God is love in God’s self because God exists relationally in three parts, but that love isn’t insular. It’s outward focused, which is why ours must be too. Anyway, if love is an event, truth is too. If love is contextual and relational, truth is too. So I’ll follow Jesus, come what may. I may be disappointed (what could be more disappointing than the cross), but even in the darkness of that disappointment I am sure of what I hope for, which is to say that faith has me (much more than “I have faith”). Like Jesus, I may die, but I will do so in that hope.