Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dissonance: on Peter's 'God, the World's Future'

Dissonance

The history of creedal Christianity is the history of bishops proclaiming accord without elaboration. We agree, but damned if we do not gloss over the details. Says the Athanasian creed: “Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit,” and “there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.”

This is the problem when Trinity crosses from story into doctrine: I challenge any living man or woman to explain to me exactly how the above is possible. It boggles the mind. It staggers the consciousness. This does not mean the Athanasian creed is incorrect but does imply that Peters consistently misevaluates the symbols. Peters assumes that we can understand them.

We must comprehend the symbols if we are to use them to explicate word and world alike. That is the only way the theological methodology of Peters functions. Though placing them at the edge, at the metaxy between reality and transcendence, Peters would also have the markers that identify the experience of revelation function something like revelation itself. If we would explicate these symbols, they must be explicable. Peters would have them bring something more than ontological shock.

He would have us embrace, at least half of the time, the kataphatic assumption that “humans know what life is on the terrestrial plane”, and in so knowing, “can speak of eternal life on the heavenly plane.” But I would assert that humans know nothing of the kind. We have no idea what life is like here; if we did, one supposes that we would be much better at it. The incarnation of Christ came in many ways in order to highlight our incapacity in precisely this regard: “they do not know what they are doing.”

And God’s disclosure of God-self in Christ was no simple manifestation; the crucifixion concealed from this world the ultimate triumph of Christ at the end of time and history; else the book of Revelation would have little to uncover. This should not surprise us, as no disclosure occurs without concealment: to say anything is to choose not to say something else entirely, even another truth. We know each other by our faces, we recognize our neighbor at a glance, but we are not our faces and dwell behind our masks.

We have no idea what keeps our neighbor awake at night. We answer to our names, but our names do not describe us. Transcendence does not stop at the edge of this world but shoots entirely through it. Three things we do not understand, and these three things are everything there is: self, other, and universe. We have full definitions of none of these things, and, one might argue, lack the cognitive equipment to form such, or recognize that we have. Yet these are with us everywhere we go; we cannot escape these mysteries.

How should we then explicate the symbols of God, if we cannot unpack the symbols of ourselves? Or, rather, we find that we are always unpacking without ever getting to the package; God is a Russian toy containing endless Russian dolls. Symbols lie at the edge, says Peters. The edge of what? What edge? Of course reality is more than what we perceive it to be; our perceptual set does not even include the fullness of material reality itself.

Nietzsche was indeed wrong about the truth; it is not a woman. God is the woman; truth is God’s beckoning finger. God is a tease. Gospel is God’s come-hither stare. The symbols of the gospel truth are the gestures God makes toward creation. They are precisely the things which are not meant to be explicated, but to be answered.

This is best done not by transforming narrative into doctrine but by joining the narrative oneself; one better understands the Triune pronouncements of the creeds not by their content but by their contest, by their context, by their place in the mouths of those obfuscating bishops. By committing to explicable symbols as semi-doctrinal doors between divinity and humanity, Peters consistently misses the story that the wall has long since crumbled and the kingdom of God is already experientially at hand.

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