May 14, 2013

God vs Irony

If context is king, then irony is queen. Sometimes you can't tell which one wields more authority. Sometimes she likes it that way. Then again, the linguistic nature of irony's supremacy proves that "man" being the measure of all things is ultimately an illusion. Every author eventually loses authority. Every ironist is immediately subject to irony. But if there is a God then our ignorance is trumped by God's knowledge. Or would be... if we could know what God knows.

The authoritative grand narratives of past ages have given way because we are too knowing, and too meta-knowing. Yet, I believe we are also too self-confident in our ability to see through human deception. Consider the paradox of models - that a simplified explanation becomes more inaccurate as it becomes more comprehensible. This hints at an ultimate paradox for all language and explanation, including all literature, science and history. We do not really know quite as much as our explanations imply and we cannot really say quite as much as we [think that we] know.

If we cannot explain it, then how do we know (that we know) it?

We do not. We cannot. That is why all our talk is dependent on recognizing authority and that is why authorities are evidently made manifest by the recognized power of their words. We are gods to ourselves, or we'd like to be. Or, at least, we'd like to convince others to think so, for a while.

But what of God? What of God's authority? What of God's words?

If human words cannot fully express human knowledge, how can God's words - in human language - ever hope to express God's knowledge? How could God ever have put his hope into words?

Consider the irony of the 2nd (3rd) commandment: no graven images. Technically, the alphabetic Hebrew characters carved in stone were icons, which are images. Visibly, words are images. Obviously, this technicality does not mitigate the force and intention of the commandment. Images lead to idolatry. Words, also, can lead to idolatry. The Bible has become idolatrous to some. So also, in some places, depictions of the Ten Commandments have been set up as shrines, as graven images, as idols.

Nevertheless, we believe, God handed down this commandment.

The fact that God's own words are so hopelessly susceptible to ironic redefinition (to say nothing of simple misunderstanding) suggests that (1) God's words must not be held too literalistically, lest the partial implication obscure the whole understanding, and (2) a God who is greater than our human language must of necessity fail to communicate with humans. And yet, we believe, God attempts to communicate anyway.

It is up to us to make sense of God's words, and yet it cannot not be up to us. But a God who is greater than language must know this. If he communicates to us via human words, he must do so secure in the knowledge that he *will* express himself incompletely, and that humans *will* understand him imperfectly.

The church as incarnation is ironic because we cannot really know which humans might be speaking for God. The scripture is ironic because it's treated as the last word but we cannot avoid further interpreting it's words. The christian life is ironic because we speak about following God, and yet which of us actually hears him?

Is, perhaps, God himself being ironic? What he says, we must presume, he means straightforwardly. That is, if he still speaks. But does he? Does God present his thoughts to us - in words so much infinitely less than all that God's thoughts might possibly mean - straightforwardly? Does God speak words that he intends us to accept plainly, that he expects us to understand perfectly?

Perhaps he does. Perhaps God has said it all perfectly and now therefore maybe God feels that it has all been said. On the other hand, what if God himself is not yet sure what else God wants to say? Interpreters of scripture disagree about whether God knows (or doesn't know) everything about what's going to happen next. Maybe God is or is not maintaining complete operative control over everything going on around here.

The grand narrative of Calvinism has absolutely served calvinist authoritarians very well, but it may or may not have served God's own agenda. What does God think of Calvin's grand narrative? Oh, how grateful God must have been when one among us was finally bright enough to have re-explained God. And how upset God must therefore equally be when all the rest of us fail to re-explain him with as much accuracy. On the other hand, if our redefinitions of God are so weak, then perhaps even our best explanation is not much more greatly pleasing to God than our worst explanation. Do our explanations, then, work to please only ourselves? (This one may. Yours, I decline to judge. Maybe.)

We continue to re-explain God. Has God ever explained God's own self?

If God's greatest self-explanation is not with words, then perhaps that is why God does not seem to have any active provision at work for counteracting our recontextualizations and redefinitions and our re-explanations. We go on, battling among ourselves. As we say more and more, God seems to say less and less.

But despite all that, I must suppose he does intend to outlast us. If so, that means the ultimate irony is not yet, but will come. The ultimate redefinition of meaning awaits time's own end. The ultimate subjective opinion, will be God's own viewpoint. The ultimate interpretation will be reality's own denoument.

The authoritative, limitless, uniform and final account of reality - words and deeds - can only be accounted for by whatever story God tells Godself.

The Bible may be God's words, or human words, or both. In any case, our perceptions of God's meaning is limited. Our narrative accounts of God's own story are necessarily limited. If the Bible itself presents a tragic-ironic view of our own limited self-awareness, and limited God-awareness, the Bible therefore succeeds most of all at expressing God's greatness, in contrast to all of our lack.

I suspect the truth is that God does not write human words any more than he paints human pictures or plays human music. I suspect the truth is as simple as what I will now try, but surely somehow fail, to illustrate:

God expresses himself in Christ.
God portrays himself by making images of Christ.
God communicates his thought by the Word, Christ.
God is moved to move within our world by incarnating himself, again and again.
God expresses himself as Christ, in the Body of Christ.
(And, occasionally, we attempt to write words about it.)

The mystery, of course, is whether or not this great limtlessness of God can ever be known or expressed through such very limited human forms. My guess is, yes. I suppose that it can. I suppose - and I can only believe - that Divine fundamentals remain active despite the human condition, despite our deeply ironic "fall".

The hope of God is nothing other than Christ being expressed in a gaggle of christians.

This cannot be, and yet somehow it is. This cannot work, and yet sometimes it does. All is not right, and yet it's somehow alright. The church is dead or dying in each place that we look. And yet we hear stories of God's love and life blooming again and again.

What is more ironic than life out of death? What more can God express but that God is not human?

Apparently, God's chief strategy is simply biding his time. God expresses Godself when God desires to do so. The ironic fall in literature is ultimately that whatever we say or do is so much infinitely less than whatever we are and might do. What I'm proposing is that, if this is true about persons, so all the more is this true about God.

God does not merely get the last word. God gets the last everything.

Of the making of many books there is no end. There will always be more to say. Commentary begets commentary. But God begat Christ.

What we say and what we believe and what we author... in words... cannot be Christ. Because words are not Christ. Words can never amount to the sharing of Christ. Only Jesus is Christ. Jesus' Body is Christ. God IN us, that may be Christ.

And where is Christ? Who is Christ? What is Christ saying? We may all try to say, but God will not speak to settle our arguments. We may all claim that we know, but only God silently knows. We may all try to judge, but only God is the judge. If God has given us that which might settle these issues, God does not seem to have done so using words.

So, then. After all that, what else can *I* say? What on Earth can *I* write? What words that are mere words can be helpful for building up anyone as part of what God is doing now, on Earth, in Christ?

I am not sure. But for now, I suppose, that's okay...

Maybe God knows. Maybe we'll find out someday.

Anon then...

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