Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Disbelief and Resurrection Faith.

In an attempt to a take a break from modern European church history reading that I should not be taking, I decided to start reading another book I picked up at AAR last year. As I decided to grab Christopher Morse's Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief off the bookshelf before heading to the coffee shop, I had no idea what to expect. I purchased this book because it came highly recommended from multiple seminary friends. And I am so very thankful I did. Over Christmas break, I listened to some lectures by Dorothee Sölle and was left with quite an impression concerning her approach to theology given her unspeakable experiences of oppression. For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised to find Morse's particular understanding of theology as not only including positive beliefs about God but also faithful disbelief. Apparently, Morse taught a doctrine of God course with Sölle during their time at Union Seminary. When Morse offered his perspective concerning disbelief in relation to the doctrine of God during one of the course lectures, Sölle remarked "If what you say is indeed traditional Christian teaching, I could accept it, but that is not what traditional Christian teaching is" (xiii). Sölle's willingness to embrace Morse's understanding of the task of theology immediately made me think that Morse is offering something in this work that can neither be ignored nor taken lightly. Even though I have barely begun this book, I thought that this particular excerpt was too meaningful to pass by. Morse uses the character of Rachel mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as a figure of disbelief worthy of imitation for the Christian life. As the biblical narrative witnesses, King Herod ordered the murder of all the first-born children under the age of two-years old in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus. In the face of such suffering, "a voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more" (Matthew 2:18). These same words came to the people of Israel half a millenium earlier through the prophet Jeremiah telling of the coming oppression from an evil ruler. However, Jeremiah's words included a promise from the Lord: "Thus says the Lord: 'Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;...there is hope for your future'" (Jer. 31:16-17). And this hope was the promised Messiah in the birth of Jesus. Morse offers a incredible picture of what Rachel means for those who live in the place of inconsolable grief:
"It should be observed that no explanation is given in these scriptures to the question of why, despite all her resistance, such suffering, injustice, and oppression afflict Rachel in places on this earth, no answer to why evil lays claim to innocent children. What Rachel does is refuse all false comfort and facile explanation. She refuses to be consoled. And by her inclusion this refusal is honored in the Gospel as a faithful testimony. That is the point I find so striking. In the darkness surrounding Rachel, just as much as in the light surrounding the natal star, the birthplace of the Christ is revealed. At the Nativity a manger somehow adjoins her tomb. Of this her disbelief of all consolation not of God becomes the faithful witness. Her voice, so Jeremiah tells us, is the one God hears.

In pondering these texts Martin Luther saw in Rachel the gospel's link between the Nativity and Good Friday. In the godforsakeness of God's own Son on the Cross (Matt. 27:46) the promised hope for Rachel is embodied. By not believing any consolation short of God's own descent in hell in Christ, the refusal of Rachel becomes a faithful witness pointing to the Resurrection. From the perspective of Resurrection faith, both the credulity that seeks comfort in false hope, and the cynicism that says there is no hope that can be trusted in the manger adjoining Rachel's tomb, are revealed as not to be believed.

Wherever we find today the credulity willing to believe anything comfortable that passes itself off as spirituality or God-talk, and wherever we find today the cynicism that says there is no hope or faith worth trusting, Rachel's refusal becomes a most timely witness to a Resurrection faith. ...

To the extent that Rachel's refusal is heard in this letter as faithful disbelief and not as faithful unbelief we are reminded of a Good Friday witness to the God whose name refuses to be spoken unless God speaks it through the silenced one."

- Christopher Morse, A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief, 11-12.

1 comment:

Sushanth Abhishek said...

the quote at the end - very interesting thought indeed. will try to get and read dis book.


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