This is Austin’s final response to a conversation we’ve been having on the blog concerning the Nature of God and Evil in the world–I know: light stuff, right? Here are the relavant links, if you’re interested: I wrote a post mentioning God taking death onto his own self; Austin took issue with this; I replied with a full-on development of the idea that God’s Nature is like an unfolding narrative–one in which there is Evil and Death; Austin responded by critiquing some of my Bible interpretation; I then wrote two posts, one responding to his response, and one telling of my fears that I’m wrong (where I also quote the James Joyce book Austin references below, as well as list out my 5 main premises for my thoughts he responds to here). This post is Austin’s final words on this (or part 1 of those words, at least). I’ll have a few concluding thoughts next week.
Is then the whole of life only a contradiction; can love not explain it, but only make it more difficult? That thought he could not endure; he must seek a way out. There must be something wrong with his love.
—Kierkegaard, The Expectation of Faith
I, like Paul, am one who has been deeply affected by Joyce’s story. That story, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is really the central struggle of my life: Artist or Theologian? Much in that book, including the scene that Paul elaborated in his response, continues to resonate in the sometimes hollow-feeling caverns of my mind. “I shall never swing the thurible…the oils of ordination shall never touch my head.” Those words wounded me and have stayed with me like a scar, long after their initial cut. I, too, am often much afraid.
Like Jacob, I wrestle with God. Israel indeed.
Over this past week, I had many fits and starts at writing this. In fact, I didn’t put down any ink until yesterday. Even then, it was not much. I felt like Saint Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans: “What I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” Oh, brother James, double-minded doesn’t even begin. I confess weakness in that I often don’t know how to view God, or how I stand before God.
I’ve been reading a novel by Cormac McCarthy, one which many consider to be his masterpiece, and not the one for which he won the Pulitzer. Blood Meridian is a dark novel, full of fluid, vivid descriptions of some of the most horrible violence you could ever cerebrally gestate. Not a word is out of place; a master craftsman is at work on all of these pages. And this skilled craftsman must be a student of Holy Scripture. Only one who has drunk the dregs of Scripture can write a story wherein the highest serenity is made to percolate through the most eviscerating heat of the caldera and violence therein described. Only the Abrahamic tradition is capable of such juxtaposition, such un-apologetic paradox.
I am also a student of this tradition. And I fear its capacity. I fear for the future of such a tradition. I fear watching time move forward in the blood-red sunsets that McCarthy so deftly describes. I often don’t understand how I can be involved in such a bloody tradition.
My only hope is that God is truly good—that the violence which has occurred is motivated by love and not by hate. If God hates anything, God hates evil (Psalm 97:10). I hope that it’s more like the sweating, muscle-strained, tendons-pulled, violence of a father ripping his child away from a fire that has already started to burn the young one, to melt her skin; a fire she in her defiance walked toward under her own power. I can stomach a violence that has a redemptive end, a violence that wasn’t wished or plan for by a Master Architect sitting deviant in the sky, dervish-whirling his plans of disarray toward all those he has made, some of whom he has made simply to destroy. That I cannot stomach. That thing I cannot worship.
McCarthy’s novel was described by one reviewer as a classic American tale of regeneration through violence. I can handle regeneration through violence if those who have violence enacted against them are somehow truly culpable for it. If the wages of sin are death, then these wages must truly be earned. I cannot tolerate a salaried violence.
Certainly there is a power in this world which by its words turns good into evil, but there is a power above which turns the evil into good; that power is the love which covers a multitude of sins.
—Kierkegaard, Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
The Psalm that I mentioned above is a perfect example of where God stands on evil. God is said to be surrounded by clouds and thick darkness (verse 2). But this is what God looks like to those who are against God. Verses two through six make it clear that it is righteousness that is being set forth. God is rectifying the evil situation of idolatry. God hates idolatry. And those who love the LORD must hate this evil (verse 10). God is holy love, a love which burns with intensity to refine away all evil dross. Only if you are participant in dross will you see God in clouds and darkness. Of course, we all have a bit of dross.
Tomorrow, I’ll post Austin’s second part of this post, where he goes through the premises I wrote about in my last post, and helpfully critiques the presuppositions under each one.