God’s Voice

‎’Gods voice is not to be mistaken. When men hear it they fall to their knees and their souls are riven and they cry out to Him and there is no fear in them but only that wildness of heart that springs from such longing and they cry out to stay his presence for they know at once that while godless men may live well enough in their exile those to whom He has spoken can contemplate no life without Him but only darkness and despair.’
-Cormac McCarthy (‘The Crossing’)

Silence


‘Teaching about Christ begins in silence. ‘Be still, for that is the absolute,’ writes Kierkegaard. That has nothing to do with the silence of the mystics, who in their dumbness chatter away secretly in their souls by themselves. The silence of the Church is silence before the Word. In so far as the church proclaims the Word, it falls down silently in truth before the inexpressible: ‘In silence I worship the inexpressible,’ (Cyril of Alexandria). The spoken Word is the inexpressible; this unutterable is the Word. ‘It must become spoken, it is a great battle cry,’ (Luther). Although it is cried out by the Church in the world, it remains the inexpressible. To speak of Christ means to keep silent; to keep silent about Christ means to speak. When the Church speaks rightly out of a proper silence, then Christ is proclaimed.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Christ the Center,’ p. 27)

Karl Barth on the Humanity of God

‘[T]he answer is that we ourselves are directly summoned, that we are lifted up, that we are awakened to our own truest being as life and act, that we are set in motion by the fact that in that one man God has made Himself our peacemaker and the giver and gift of our salvation. By it we are made free for Him. By it we are put in the place which comes to us where our salvation (really ours) can come to us from Him (really from Him). This actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself opens up to us the one true possibility of our own being. Indeed, what remains to us of life and activity in the face of this actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself can only be one thing. This one thing does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment. It is not a small thing, but the greatest of all. It is not for us a passive presence as spectators, but our true and highest activation—the magnifying of His grace which has its highest and most profound greatness in the fact that God has made Himself man with us, to make our cause His own, and as His own to save it from disaster and to carry it through to success. The genuine being of man as life and activity, the “We with God,” is to affirm this, to admit that God is right, to be thankful for it, to accept the promise and the command which it contains, to exist as the community, and responsibly in the community, of those who know that this is all that remains to us, but that it does remain to us and that for all men everything depends upon its coming to pass. And it is this “We with God” that is meant by the Christian message in its central “God with us,” when it proclaims that God Himself has taken our place, that He Himself has made peace between Himself and us, that by Himself he has accomplished our salvation, I.e., our participation in His being.’ [Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics,’ IV/I, p. 12]

Ethical Judgement and Rights

What gives someone the right to make an ethical judgement? An ethical judgment is how one determines which action to take in any scenario, and on that definition is linked with the action itself. Broadly, ethical judgement can be defined so as to include the decision process as well as the action itself.

It seems to me that this question is somewhat wrongly framed, however – ethical judgments are not something that I have a right to in the same way that I have rights to other goods in my life. In a strict sense then, I don’t have a ‘right’ to make ethical judgement in that ethical judgments are a good to which I have a right. But let us examine some arguments in favor of ethical rights.

One could argue that I have a moral right to make ethical judgement – that an ethical judgement is something I ought to do – but it seems to me that just because I ought  to make an ethical judgement does not give me the right to make such judgements. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t intervene – only that, strictly speaking, I would not have a right to – I would have an obligation to.

One could argue that I have a legal right to make an ethical judgement – and this seems to me to be a position more solid. If I see someone being mistreated in an illegal way, than I have a legal right to to make an ethical judgement. However, this is a bestowed right – suppose there are laws in other countries different from my own or no laws at all – if this were the case then I would not have such rights to make an ethical judgement, or at least have more limited rights. The bestowing of the rights to ethical judgement by various legal codes seems to be somewhat arbitrary – and as such is not concrete enough to ground a theory of the rights to ethical judgement.

It would seem then that the two strongest contentions of the rights to ethical judgements, the moral and the legal, do not provide sufficent justification for the idea of ethical judgement being a right. Ethical judgments, then, do not seem to be something to which I have a right to make, for two reasons: (a) ethical judgments are not a good to which I have a right, in the same way I have a right to be treated well, and (b) the moral and legal arguments for ethical rights do not seem to provide sufficient justification for such a position. On these two accounts, it appears that ethical judgements are not something I have a right to make.

However, all we have done so far is examine the negative side of the question of ethical rights. The issue it seems to me is that the above arguments are too abstract to provide any concrete ethics – ethical judgments are not things that take place in the abstract but in the concrete, in human existence. Let us then re-frame the question in a non-abstract way that can be directly applied to human existence.

My assertion, then, is that ethical judgement is not something to which I have a right  but something that I have a freedom for, and only insofar as I stand in relation to another person – ethical judgments are something I only have freedom for in relation to another person, because it is only in relation to another person that I have freedom.

‘No man is free “as such,” that is, in a vacuum, in the way that he may be musical, intelligent or blind as such. Freedom is not a quality of man, nor is it an ability, a capacity, a kind of being that somehow flares up in him. Anyone investigating man to discover freedom finds nothing of it. Why? Because freedom is not a quality which can be revealed–it is not a possession, a presence, an object, nor is it a form of existence–but a relationship and nothing else. In truth, freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means “being free for the other,” because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.’( Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Creation and Fall / Temptation: Two Biblical Studies,’ p. 39-40)

Bonhoeffers ethical thought is grounded in the concrete reality of human existence and relationships as opposed to the abstract of what I ought to do or what I have a right  to do. For Bonhoeffer, ethics are meant to be real concrete and not abstract, because real human existence demands concrete ethics.

Bonhoeffer on Freedom

‎’In man God creates his image on earth. This means that man is like the Creator in that he is free. Actually he is free only by God’s creation, by means of the Word of God; he is free for the worship of the Creator. In the language of the Bible, freedom is not something man has for himself but something he has for others. No man is free “as such,” that is, in a vacuum, in the way that he may be musical, intelligent or blind as such. Freedom is not a quality of man, nor is it an ability, a capacity, a kind of being that somehow flares up in him. Anyone investigating man to discover freedom finds nothing of it. Why? because freedom is not a quality which can be revealed–it is not a possession, a presence, an object, nor is it a form of existence–but a relationship and nothing else. In truth, freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means “being free for the other,” because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.’
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (‘Creation and Fall / Temptation: Two Biblical Studies,’ p. 39-40)

This is another example of how critical relationship is in Bonhoeffer’s thought – just as Christ exists for me, I exist for others.

Christology: ‘For me’

‘Christ is Christ, not just for himself, but in relation to me. His being in Christ is for me, pro me . This being pro me is not to be understood as an effect emanating from ihm, nor as an accident, but it is to be understood as the essence, the being of the person himself. The core of the ther person himself is pro me. That Christ is pro me is not an historical, nor an ontic statement, but an ontological one. Christ can never be thought of as being for himself, but only in relation to me.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Christ the Center,’ p. 47)

Here we come to a very interesting part of Bonhoeffers christology: that Christ literally exists for me, and cannot be understood in any other way other than being in relation to me. This relational factor is what makes Bonhoeffers thought so brilliant – that Christ cannot be understood any other way than relationally. Christ in His essence is for me – and for humanity. He stands in humanity’s place before God – and here is what I believe to be the core of Bonhoeffers christology:

‘Jesus Christ is for his bretheren because he stands in their place. Christ stands for his new humanity before God. But if that is so, he is the new humanity. There where mankind should stand, he stands as a representative, enabled by his pro me structure. He is the Church. He not only acts for it, he is it, when he goes to the cross, carries the sins and dies. Therefore, in him, mankind is crucified, dead and judged.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Christ the Center,’ p. 48)

It is the for me that justifies the world – this is a universal atonement brought on by the very essence of Christ. As stated above this is not an effect that comes from Christ but the very essence. The relational factor here is key and an underlying presupposition critical to Bonhoeffers thought – as it should be for all theology.

Reality

‘All things appear distorted if they are not seen and recognized through God. All so-called data, all laws and standards, are mere abstractions so long as there is no belief in God as the ultimate reality.’

‘Any perception or apprehension of things or laws without Him is now abstraction, detachment from the origin and goal. Any inquiry about one’s own goodness, or the goodness of the world, is now impossible unless inquiry has first been made about the goodness of God.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Ethics,’ p. 187)

This line of thought is an interesting one, and to my mind shows how radical Bonhoeffer is in his conception of reality. Bonhoeffer doesn’t just say that things are meaningless without God – he flat out denies them any existence in a substantial form apart from God.

‘Divine Victory,’ by David Bently Hart

‘We Christians are not obliged (and perhaps not even allowed) to look upon the devastation of that day – to look, that is, upon the entire littoral rim of the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal and upper Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children – and to attempt to console ourselves or others with vacuous cant about the ultimate meaning or purpose residing in all that misery. Our religion, after all, is a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces – whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance – that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. And we are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological ages and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the richer, more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven by darkness.  That ours is a fallen world is not, of course, a truth demonstrable to those who do not believe: it is not a first principle of faith, but rather something revealed to us only by what we know of Christ, in the light cast back from His saving action in history upon the whole of time. The fall of rational creation and the subjection of the cosmos to death is something that appears to us nowhere within the unbroken time of nature or history; we cannot search it out within the closed continuum of the wounded world; it belongs to another frame of time, another  kind of time, one more real than the time of death.

When, however, we learn in Christ the nature of our first estate, and the divine destiny to which we are called, we begin to see – more clearly the more we are able to look at the world with the eye of charity – that there is in all the things of earth a hidden glory waiting to be revealed, more radiant than a million suns, more beautiful than the most generous imagination or ardent desire can now conceive. Or rather, it is a glory not entirely hidden: veiled, rather, but shining in and through and upon all things. The imperishable goodness of all being does in fact show itself in all that it is. It shows itself in the vast waters of the Indian Ocean, and it is not hard to see when those waters are silver and azure under the midday sky, or gold and indigo in the light of the setting sun, or jet and pearl in the light of the moon, and when their smoothly surging tides break upon the shore and harmlessly recede. But it is still there even when – the doors of the sea having broken their seals – those waters become suddenly dull and opaque with grey or sallow silt and rise up to destroy and kill without will or thought or purpose or mercy. At such times, to see the goodness indwelling all creation requires a labor of vision that only faith in Easter can sustain; but it is there, effulgent, unfading, innocent, but languishing in bondage to corruption, groaning in anticipation of a glory yet to be revealed, both as a promise of the Kingdom yet to come and a portent of its beauty.

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of His enemy. Such a faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can defeat; for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are not saved through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetter in which creation languishes; and, that rather showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in darkness were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

– David Bently Hart (‘The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?” pp101-104.)

Musings on Certainty

Of what can we be certain?

There’s a few different answers to this question. Some would say that we can be certain of  nothing – this is the more radical position. It pertains to everything – moral judgement, ethical judgement, the whole shebang. You can’t really be certain of anything. This seems to me to be somewhat self-refuting – can you be certain that there is nothing you can be certain about? If that’s the case, then it seems like it cuts its own feet out from under it.

But let’s take the more radical line: we can’t even be certain that there’s nothing we can’t be certain about.  Radical skepticism like this seems to lead to simply absurd and incoherent conclusions – we can’t be certain that we can’t be certain, on for infinity. So this seems to me to be a somewhat incoherent picture.

So much for radical skepticism, then. How else can we know of what we can be certain?

Well, we can be certain in mathematics – indeed, mathematics is home to a very special certainty: the certainty of 2+2=4. This is as rock-bottom certain as one can be – mathematical certainty. But we can’t be that certain about other things – because other things aren’t mathematics.

It seems to me, however, that we can be  reasonably certain of certain things – I’m certain that I love my fiance, and that she loves me. I’m certain that I love a good dark German ale, but don’t like bitter IPA’s. I’m certain that there are other people, that gas is expensive, and lots of other things – and I’m reasonably certain other people are certain about these kinds of things as well. It would seem in that case that what I’ll call ‘common sense certainty’ is the best position – radical skepticism seems to be unwarranted. It is unreasonable to suppose that people aren’t really there, or that any of the things I just listed aren’t certain enough for me to be justified in believing them – they seem perfectly warranted beliefs. In fact, to  not believe any of these things would be the irrational position to take. This is related somewhat to the idea of ‘properly basic beliefs’  – and it seems to me that such beliefs provide a good grounding for a common-sense certainty.

There is a sense in which, as stated above, one cannot be certain in the mathematical sense of any of those things – perhaps I’m mentally ill, having a hallucination, or any other possible circumstance that would impede my cognitive faculties. Again, however, common-sense certainty seems to me to be adequate grounds for not assuming any of those things. On this view, to posit skepticism beyond necessity is superfluous. Of course I could be under a cognitive-faculty hindering influence, but unless it was something that effected my entire being, I find it easy to imagine that there would be some sign that I was in fact suffering from such a condition.

Without reverting to foundationalism, it seems that common-sense certainty coupled with properly basic beliefs provides adequate grounds to refute radical skepticism in light of the fact that mathematical certainty is not availible for any and all beliefs.

The Knowability of God – Foundations of Christology: The God-Man

Apart from God’s energies (workings) in creation, the most decisive and important way in which God can be known is through His revelation in Jesus Christ in history. Jesus Christ is the concrete presence of God in history – Jesus is fully human. Jesus is also fully God. For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this God-man distinction was crucial:

‘Because Jesus is Christ is man, he is present in time and space; because Jesus Christ is God, he is eternally present. The presence of Jesus Christ in the Church, at a particular time and place, is because of the fact that there is one whole person of the God-Man. It is therefore an impossible question to ask how the man Jesus, limited by space and time, can be contemporary with us. This Jesus does not exist in isolation. Equally impossible is the other, how can God be in time. This isolated God does not exist. The only possible and  meaningful question is, ‘Who is there, present in time and place?’ The answer is, ‘The one person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.’ I do not know who the man Jesus Christ is, unless I can at the same time say, ‘Jesus Christ is God’; I do not know who the God Jesus Christ is, unless I can at the same time say, ‘Jesus Christ is man.’ The two factors cannot be isolated, because they are not seperable. God in timeless eternity is not God; Jesus limited by time is not Jesus. Rather we may say that in the Man Jesus, God is God. In this Jesus Christ, God is present. This one God-Man is the starting point of Christology.’ (‘Christ the Center,’ p. 45)

The humanity of Jesus Christ was central for Bonhoeffer – Karl Barth had similar thoughts as well. The basic idea is summed up in the final sentences bolded above. Only if Christ was completely human would the Incarnation have had any meaning for humanity. This forms the foundations of one of the distinctive mark of Bonhoeffers (as well as Barth’s) theology: that God is ‘for us’ in Christ – in the real and complete humanity of Christ, and in the real and complete divinity of Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself.