Monday, February 10, 2014

These Essays: Transforming Time

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
- Philippians 4:8

The thesis of these essays has been that Christian readers of Scripture ought to prefer those interpretations which heal, which demonstrate salutary force, to those that do not. The first assumption underlying this thesis—that, given the choice, one ought to prefer helping others over ignoring or harming them—should hardly need to be argued for among followers of Jesus Christ.

And the scope of this study truly does prohibit an exhaustive exploration of the ethics of the New Testament or of psychological or medical intervention. Suffice it to say that, in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, these essays trusts that help should be supplied whenever help is needed. These essays take Christ’s love commandment seriously. My second assumption in these essays – that Christian Scripture, through our interpretations, can heal and thus be of some aid in the life and growth of a person—has warranted considerably more attention.

We have seen that Scripture is both unique in its comprehensive understanding and explanation of the human soul and psyche, and particular in its refusal to ultimately subject itself to our own cultural, theoretical, and methodological constraints. At the same time, Scripture is intimately familiar with and empathetic to human minds, inviting our utmost participation through its words, images, and symbols.

This empathy is particularly so in Scripture’s mediation of Jesus Christ as incarnate word of God. I now hope to demonstrate that these two aspects of Scripture, its authority and empathy, its strangeness and its intimacy, do not conflict. Indeed, they may actually depend upon and enhance each other if we take the Bible as a conversational partner in all our joyful, sinful and sorrowful affairs.  

If we recall my controlling image of the therapist and patient, we will find that the distinctions I have been employing, between authority and empathy, between understanding and explication, prove not so clearly separated in practice. I do not go to a therapist who I trust as an authority who then empathizes with me and then recommends a course of action which I then follow toward my transformation.

Rather, my choosing a therapist in the first place might begin my transformation, and rapport may quite readily matter more to me in the moment than any diplomas on a wall. More, it is certainly possible that somewhere in the therapeutic process I might come to empathize with my therapist—indeed, some might say therapy has not happened without this. Which is not to say that our distinctions do not matter so much as it is to say that of course they work together toward a larger goal. Transformation, healing, is itself a dynamic, all-involving process. This can be no less true when we turn our attention to interpreting the Christian scripture.

But there is a note here in our little analogy about therapy something which merits closer attention: it is not instantaneous. It develops through time. At the beginning of the therapeutic experience, the therapist may be little more than a person with a degree, and the client little more than a person who may be helped. Yet through the process of therapy, the doctor, so to speak, may become a deeply trusted confidante, and the patient a person equipped not only to see to his or her own healing, but also to attend to the healing of others.

Though it may be a little awkward to say, through therapy, and because of the growing trust between them, the doctor becomes a therapist, and the person becomes a human being. Because of the therapeutic event, or rather because of a series of therapeutic events, both parties emerge as more than what they were before. Dare we remember Von Balthasar, here, and suggest that the therapist is not fully so until the therapist is known? And likewise for the client? Dare we likewise predicate the same to the event of interpreting Holy Writ?

I have said that, through Scripture, God interprets humankind. Through Scripture, God reveals us both as we are and as we might become. Indeed, we who read the Scriptures through faith in a loving God believe that God’s interpretation of humankind as we are also reveals, through Christ, the image of who we might become. Because God loves us, when God interprets us we become more human.

Unlike human love, this love contains no disappointment, because through Christ it is already being fulfilled. This is the logic of the two visions of human health contained in the New Testament: the Kingdom of God imagined and inaugurated by Jesus Christ, and the participation in the atonement of Christ imagined and encouraged by the apostle Paul. The Kingdom is at hand; the firstfruits of the harvest are being unleashed upon the saints. These will not be stopped by our moral, physical and other illnesses. 

Indeed, they will make use of and transform them, as God makes use of and transforms us. God loves us as we are now, in our human all-too-human state. God also loves us we will be through Christ, in our perfected human nature. The good news is that through Christ, these two loves do not conflict. Indeed, Scripture shows us that they come hand-in-hand. In this sense Scripture, God’s fullest interpretation of humankind, possesses its own kind of salutary force.

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