Christian interpreters of Scripture best understand interpretation when we read Scripture as empathy and authority working together to foster transformation. The work of Hans Ur Von Balthasar seems parallel to this: transcendence which we cannot understand only ever presents itself in concrete terms which we do understand. So knowledge, a gift given us by God, is known only insofar as we can know it. But it is also known only insofar as it is given. We understand when God’s wisdom fits itself to human shape. Such a transaction is both empathetic and participatory. The incarnation, for example, is like us enough to draw us in, but different enough that we will be transformed.
The radical step Von Balthasar takes is to suggest that things are most fully themselves when they are understood or witnessed. This casts an exciting light on what the criterion of salutary force might gesture toward, because it is tied to what we are becoming. Christ most clearly reveals God when upon the cross, not because God is supremely dying or supremely victim, but because it is there that Christ is supremely witnessed. For our part we may say that Scripture, in turn, is both more authoritative and more empathetic when we read it so, and become transformed ourselves.
What, then, are we becoming? When we arrive at the destination Scripture imagines, where will we be? What will our healing finally look like? These are, of course, enormous questions, the answers to any one of which far exceed the scope of a single tome, let alone the aspirations of these essays. But about them, I think, two things may very broadly be said.
First, Jesus Christ of Nazareth imagined our purpose and destination to be the kingdom of God poeticized by the prophets and narrated in his own parables. And second, that Paul in his epistles grants that our best nature and greatest human fulfillment come through participation in Christ’s atoning death and vivifying resurrection. These are, I think, two non-identical and perhaps even non-stable imaginative schemes, between which there may well be varying degrees of tension.
But I believe the wager of Scripture is that they are not incompatible. Rather, they both contribute to the best possible visions of human thriving in light of the reign of God. Because we Christians read, or ought to read, the Bible as a whole, we can only fail by exhausting one by ignoring the other. So in these essays I trust that taking the two together, Kingdom as well as Christ, directs us toward both our deepest human thriving and our highest possible goals.
“Taking things together” shall, as it happens, be my sort of comprehensive theme. Ultimately, the interpretation of Scripture is about the thoroughly, rigorously holistic operation of the human mind, and thence springs its possible healing value—and the salutary force of its interpretive findings. One would not expect such complexity to be contained in one intended meaning anymore than we would expect that just any old interpretation would suffice to heal a soul.
Rather, this study would hope that thoroughly valid Christian interpretations of Scripture would share as a family, as a class, as a limited but lively multitude, a certain quality of excellence, a rigorous healing force of positive transformation. They would not have gained such power only by being technically or factually correct, but they also certainly would not have earned it by being mistaken, or by being flippant.
Instead, if ones takes salutary force as a criterion of interpretive validity, the interpretations which it identifies will have gained their virtue by arranging a meeting. The best encounter a reading of Scripture may produce is that between the Author of the universe and the wounded, faulty misapprehension of a human being, a reader, a listener willing to undergo the voyage of understanding.
One could not expect such a journey to necessarily be painless. But one would also not expect it to be destructive, malicious, or confused. What one might expect instead is that the salutary force of an interpretation, the power of its ability to holistically heal a human psyche, to arrange an encounter between the reality of divinity and the actuality of humanity, would have been most notable for its empowering authority of explication and the empathy of its compassionate understanding—its outstanding interpretive validity.
And this study would hope that if, as Christian interpreters of Scripture we are wrong about whether or not we have been healed, if we are mistaken to think that it has been wise to invite others along our road, if what we have taken to have been positive transformation has in fact been the destruction of our souls, then doubtless we would be so wrong about so many steps in the odyssey of interpretation that all our doings could not have mattered very much in any case. But surely the Word of the God of love, who lives and reigns as the way and truth and life, will have saved us from such error, or not given us such Scriptures in the first place.