bloggif_52b7bd86e422a

Link to Part 1: Introduction.

Link to Part 2a: Is Faith Paradoxical?

Link to Part 2b: Is Faith Paradoxical?

Link to Part 4: The Loneliness of Faith, or, Life Together

 

This post, in addition to surpassing my editor’s worst fears and most pessimistic deadlines, is even more experimental in nature than all the preceding ones. I sense that something interesting may come of juxtaposing Kierkegaard’s concept of the Absurd and the biblical concept of Glory. Perhaps we might work it out.

Kierkegaard’s concept of the Absurd, as we have seen, expresses in a negative fashion the ultimacy and transcendence of the act of faith: it emphatically declares what faith cannot be. Faith cannot be reduced to universal principles and commonsense maxims; faith is not even on speaking terms with universal truths. Faith is more akin to utter nonsense, like saying that the part is greater than the whole, or the particular is greater than the universal. For Johannes de silentio, the essence of faith is paradox.

Kierkegaard thus founded the philosophy of existentialism, whose consequences soon spiraled out of control into a generally depressing terrifying vision of the individual. For it is deeply unstable to found a philosophy on a paradox. It is one thing to concede that there are limits to Reason; quite another to say that the key to all life and existence lies beyond those limits.

Admittedly, J.d.s. does not expect our leap of faith to be a leap in the dark. J.d.s. does paint us a picture of the Knight of Faith, which is an affirmative vision of what Faith looks like from the outside. But even the example of the Knight does not give us any solid principles by which to identify faith. The Knight of Faith is presented to us solely by a concrete narrative; to extract any universal principle from that narrative is barred by J.d.s.‘s own arguments that faith cannot be talked about by means of abstract universals. In short, if the individual wishes to discover the nature of faith, she is on her own.

So I think the Absurd does, in the end, amount to a leap in the dark. The Absurd rules out (negatively) what faith cannot be, but its only affirmation (positively) is paradox. But by inviting total paradox, nihilism is just around the corner. What does anything mean? What’s the point of anything? The Absurd seems to offer no security, no hope, no trust in our very finite powers. Abandon oneself to infinite resignation and infinite – infinite something else.

I think there is a better notion of faith.

Central to the Jewish and Christian faiths is the notion of God’s glory. God’s glory might be defined as “everything worth having.”  Its common connotations include splendor, radiance, magnificence;  biblically, it is invariably associated with the immanent presence of God. Before the Exile, glory took on a specific meaning of God’s glory-presence, the Shekinah, God’s dwelling or resting in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. (Incidentally, the glory-presence is never stated to descend upon the Second Temple; when John writes of Christ that “we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14), it is probably the long-awaited return of the immanent presence of God that he has in mind.)

In the present context, Glory stands out for several reasons.

Firstly, God’s glory, like the Absurd, is infinite. It almost beggars description. But not quite. We hear in Habakkuk 2:14 that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Likewise in Isaiah 66, “they shall come and see my glory… they shall declare my glory.” Glory will be known and declared. It may not presently be known; but it is knowable.

Secondly, God’s glory comes from outside us, whether that be in the glory-presence of God, or in its reflection throughout the creation (see, for instance, Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork”). Glory is fundamentally opposed to solipsism. Instead, glory is shared.

The fulfilment of glory is clearly in communion with others. Glory is the harmony of the perfectly tuned orchestra, swelling, fulminating in astounding polyphony or power-drenched unison, be it Mahler’s eight octaves of A’s, or Bach’s most intricate fugue, or the crashing cadences or thunderous tensions or haunting themes. It is profoundly corporate. We find ourselves not merely spectators but players, & yet also ourselves but adding to the glory of the soloist and the conductor

– Athanael, ­Fever-Visions of Thais

Thirdly, therefore, God is nearer and, in some way, more comprehensible than we might think. God’s glory is present with us. This present beautiful sunset (is it God’s handiwork, or merely the beauty of an atheistic Nature?), these present emotional experiences of God (are they merely imagined?), this reasonable ethical principle (is it truly noble, or merely a fiction?): they are all validated by the immanence of God’s glory. (Some would call this a kataphatic theology.) Most prominently, God’s glory is present in Man, not just in Jesus Christ but also in “the least of these” (cf Matt 25:40). The only problem is that our perception of His glory is incomplete, not that it is fundamentally paradoxical.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

– C S Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Fourthly, then, glory restores the importance of the universal. Reason, ethics, aesthetics:  all have their place again. The act of faith may remain particular, but the particular acquires its significance only by participating in and reflecting the universal. Glory is bestowed on us; glory is shared by us. Meaning and significance can be found (only) in the reflection of glory.

Can Satan speak of himself but as an angel?

– Athanael, ­Fever-Visions of Thais

Fifthly, whereas the paradox of the Absurd leaves a man with no place to go, glory has a hold on people. Glory lays claim to people. Even the hope of glory, even the shadow of glory, is enough to compel a response. Glory is inherently worth pursuing. The natural response to glory is to seek after it. Glory is not just the source of meaning but also is empowering. Thus, Moses: “Please show me your glory” (Ex 33:18).

Thus, there is a Knight of Glory: he is the knight who is actually on a quest. He must make a journey and his reward is at the end. If the reward is obscure, it is because he is not at the end yet. The Knight of Glory has a telos, and it is his Master, the King of Glory – to perfectly know and obey His will

– Athanael, ­Fever-Visions of Thais

Sixthly, why is glory compelling, when paradox is not? It is because glory is directed. With glory, there is a “right way up.” Not everything is clear, but neither is everything paradox. There is a right way to go. Glory makes things clearer, not more obscure.

 I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

– C S Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?”

The absurd says that everything under the sun is a chasing-after-wind; but glory is like the light of the sun. The wind is not seen, yet it is felt;  so too is the sun. Yet the sun is different from the wind and prior to it. The wind is the absurd; it ruffles the feathers of the human mind but ultimately just moves detritus around and goes nowhere. The sun is His glory: it illuminates, it radiates, eternal, powerful, beautiful, incontrovertible, self-evidently true, freeing, empowering

– Athanael, ­Fever-Visions of Thais

These are, of course, entirely impractical reflections, but perhaps of some theological import. There is a kind of freedom that we are supposed to find in pursuing the complex, almost ineffable presence of God. We must try to find it. We must not give up and declare all our categories for thinking about God to be Absurd.

Sincerely,

Athanael

 

Link to Part 1: Introduction.

Link to Part 2a: Is Faith Paradoxical?

Link to Part 2b: Is Faith Paradoxical?

Link to Part 4: The Loneliness of Faith, or, Life Together