Saturday, April 21, 2012

The humility of God.

I have probably read this excerpt from Karl over ten times by now, but it never ceases to amaze me:
"Even in the form of a servant, which is the form of His presence and action in Jesus Christ, we have to do with God Himself in His true deity. The humility in which He dwells and acts in Jesus Christ is not alien to Him, but proper to Him. His humility is a new mystery for us in whose favour He executes it when He makes use of His freedom for it, when He shows His love even to His enemies and His life even in death, thus revealing them in a way which is quite contrary to all our false ideas about God. But for Him this humility is no new mystery. It is His sovereign grace that He wills to be and is amongst us in humility, our God, God for us. But He shows us this grace, He is amongst us in humility, our God, God for us, as that which He is in Himself, in the most inward depth of His Godhead. He does not become another God. In the condescension in which He gives Himself to us in Jesus Christ He exists and speaks and acts as the One He was from all eternity and will be to all eternity. The truth and actuality of our atonement depends on this being the case. The One who reconciles the world with God is necessarily the one God Himself in His true Godhead. Otherwise the world would not be reconciled with God. Otherwise it is still the world which is not reconciled with God."
- Karl Barth, CD IV.1, 192-193 (emphasis added).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Finding One's "Calling"

I've been wrestling pretty seriously lately with the notion of my own "calling." I'm still genuinely trying to figure out what anyone means when they use the word "calling."As someone raised in evangelicalism, the word "calling" is thrown around pretty routinely often without much content given to the term. It leaves one trying to continually discern the will of God for one's life. This usually involves a level of anxiety and fear that one might somehow miss their calling. To make matters worse, there is always a lot of supernatural (and sometimes superstitious) language that couches the word "calling" in these sorts of conversations as well.

This notion of "calling" as typically construed includes a lot of pressure. Is this job, path, decision, or goal what I'm supposed to do? Is this what I'm good at? Does this utilize my gifts? And it is often assumed that there is one specific path to one specific calling. Given the fact that I'm presently trying to discern what my future holds in terms of studying theology, I've been asking myself these questions almost every single day. And at times, it feels like such a weight upon me and fear looms large that I'll simply miss it.

In some sense, this desire to "find the will of God" for one's life is the natural response of one committed to serving and following Jesus Christ. And in other ways, it is nothing short of narcissism (I'm speaking strictly for myself here and not pointing the finger at anyone). The process to discern one's calling can easily and quickly end up in patterns of thinking that feel as though the world will not continue orbiting around the sun unless you figure out God's specific plan for your life. And it also rests pretty heavily at times on thinking you are this particular and beautiful snowflake that God has predestined to change the world. There is always an element of pride involved in trying to figure out exactly what you are supposed to be doing for the Kingdom of God in this way that is wrapped up in mystical language of "calling." No matter the good intentions and motives, these dangers are ever-present.

All that is to offer some background for some relief I felt today. As I sat in the Barth seminar on this beautiful Tuesday afternoon, I was really blessed by a passage in Barth that denies the necessity for desire (eros) framed in a particular way. I realize that Barth was not speaking directly to the notion of finding one's own "calling." However, I think this specific passage is still very relevant to my current struggles and questions. Moreover, this passage highlights a theological understanding that is especially freeing about Barth's entire theology. I think it has to do primarily with the reality that reconciliation has already been accomplished and actualized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no possibility in the human subject to attain some new status, even in finding their own "calling." It is finished. Everything that can and should be said about me, any definition of who I am as a human being is already been spoken and achieved and defined in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In life, the Christian simply chooses or not chooses to recognize their true status and reality as one elected and reconciled by God in Jesus Christ. The truth that all has already been accomplished, and that there is no creative act for the individual offers a freedom from the burden of continually striving to figure out what God wants you to do with your life. I don't think this gives a person license for laziness or disinterest. Far from it. This posture of recognition offers the freedom to truly be the person that you actually already are -- a child of God who was elected by the free grace and love of God to be in communion with God and to offer a life of witness to the world that this is their same status. I don't think anything short of that can offer any sort of comfort as I continue to make decisions for the future and seek to follow the Lord in my speech and actions.
The truth is that he can never in all eternity find himself, his being as this self in the world before God and among his fellows, but chasing his own shadow, can and will only lose in all eternity, so long as he tries to will and desire and seek and strive after and achieve and maintain himself as the love in which man can respond to the love of God, in his liberation from this supposed necessity, his dispensation from this forward-seeking in need and desire, his release from the obligation of this chase in which he is both the hunter and the hunted and which for this reason can only be utterly futile. Man can cease from this self-willing, and therefore from all the frenzied activity in which he can seek, yet never find, but only lose himself. For if the only meaning of life is that man must seek himself to find himself, he can only lose himself in this seeking, and life is meaningless. Christian love is his deliverance because the one who loves as a Christian gives up trying to save himself, to be his own deliverer. In Christian love a man can finally leave that circle of destruction, which is in the true sense a vicious cycle. And not become himself? Quite the contrary! It is only in this way that he can and will become himself. To renounce that seeking, to leave that circle, is indeed a necessary condition of Christian love. But positively this love is man's self-giving to God (not for what He can give, nor for the sake of some purpose that can be achieved with His help, but for God Himself), and his self-giving to his fellow (again, not for what he can give, nor for the sake of some purpose, but for the man himself). As this self-giving, the Christian love which is from God is man's response to God's own love. It is in this way that God loves man. He does not seek Himself, let alone anything for Himself, but simply man, man as he is and as much, man himself. And God does not in any sense fall short of Himself when He loves in this way. In this self-giving to man He is God in all His freedom and glory. If the love of man, as his response to the fact that God loves him in this way, itself consists in his self-giving, this certainly means that there can be no more self-love, no more desiring and seeking the freedom and glory of the self. But why, and how far, is this really the case? Simply because he has already found himself in great freedom and glory. What he cannot win by desiring and seeking, he has already attained, not in the power of his renunciation, but in the power of the self-giving in which he may respond to the love of God. He himself is the one who is loved by God. He himself is the one to whom God has given Himself in His Son, and gives Himself as He gives Him His Holy Spirit. He is cut off from eros-love, and taken out of that circle, by the fact that, loving as a Christian, he is already at the place which he was vainly trying to reach in the Icarus-flight and self-assertion of eros-love. There is no further point in erotic love. Eros is made superfluous by the agape in which man may find himself and therefore has no more need to seek himself. He himself discovers himself to be secure in his response to the love of God."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 749-750.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hope and Mental Illness

I was assigned to read a lecture entitled "Recovery and the Conspiracy of Hope" by Dr. Patricia Deegan concerning the existence of hope in relation to mental illness. For many reasons, I found this to be incredibly beautiful and meaningful to read. Deegan gave this particular lecture at the Mental Health Services Conference of Australia and New Zealand back in 1996. When she uses the word "we", she is referencing those who work in the area of mental health:

"Both individually and collectively we have refused to succumb to the images of despair that so often are associated with mental illness. We are a conspiracy of hope and we are pressing back against the strong tide of oppression which for centuries has been the legacy of those who are labeled with mental illness. We are refusing to reduce human beings to illnesses. We recognize that within each one of us there is a person and that, as people, we share a common humanity with those who have been diagnosed with mental illness. We are here to witness that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness are not things, are not objects to be acted upon, are not animals or subhuman life forms. We share in the certainty that people labeled with mental illness are first and above all, human beings."

This makes me wonder what kind of rich theology can emerge from a christocentric interpretation of mental illness. I want to resist language that affirms something of inherent worth inside the individual. Rather, I'd like to move toward understanding all humanity, regardless of their endless differences including mental illness, as valuable only due to their reality as being chosen and elected in Jesus Christ. I can't imagine how this would inform the message of hope that is spoken and embodied when interacting with those who endure mental illness.

Moreover, I think there are a lot of eschatological questions that need to be asked when we reference language of hope in relation to mental illness. Is there a "true humanity" that must be found underneath this mental illness? What does trying to find that "true humanity" underneath the illness mean for how we view and treat those with mental illnesses just as they are? Eschatologically speaking, do we see them as less than human until the future resurrection when they will no longer suffer from such illness? Is their illness an intimate part of their humanity? Do we want to support an eschatology that leaves no room for mental illness to exist in the future resurrection? If we don't want the future resurrection to include mental illness, is it possible to prevent treating those with mental illness as subhuman in this present reality?

There is one thing I would like to note: so often in academic theological discourse, we talk endlessly about the marginalized and the oppressed. And I fully support this focus more than I can express here. But I rarely, if ever, hear speech about those who suffer from mental illness. They are truly some of the most forgotten and abused members of society. To hope for these particular human beings and somehow pursue solidarity with those who suffer from mental illness is scandalously neglected. This might be due to the fact that results are so hard to tangibly measure most times. Progress is unbearably slow. Sometimes so much so that hope seems futile. Moreover, what does progress mean for specific types of mental illness like schizophrenia? Yet the places where progress seems impossible to measure are the exact places where hope must be born. These are the places for which theological speech should be directed. The psychiatric hospital is one of the main spaces for which we should be ordering our speech and actions after the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the places where the light of the resurrection must shine into the darkness. These are precisely the places where Jesus Christ meets us.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday.

"And it is not only legitimate, but obligatory, that we should think of the saying in Mk. 10:45 which tells us that the Son of Man has not come into the world to be ministered unto (like the supposed lords of this world), but to minister; and not to minister partially or occasionally, like many of those whose real aim is to rule, but totally and exclusively, by giving His life for many, for the liberation of many, by becoming their λύτρον [redemption]. This is the determination of His historical existence. His body and blood, as it is impressively repeated (however we may have to interpret the different texts in detail) in the thanksgiving and giving and receiving which took place at the Last Supper with the disciples ( Mk. 14:22 and par.). In order that others may receive from Him and appropriate what is active and revealed in Him, He will not and does not offer up anything less than Himself, His body and blood: This is my body; And this is my blood. And He does this with thanksgiving, as the great act of His εὐλογία [blessing] and εὐχαριστία [thanksgiving]. To the same context (understood either in relation to the Lord's Supper or apart from it) there belongs also the passage in Jn. 6:53 that if we are to have eternal life we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. We may also think of the very curious saying to the woman in Bethany about anointing His body for burial (Mk. 14:8). But perhaps the most eloquent individual testimony is the quiet fact that when He called the twelve to be with Him, and to go out proclaiming Him with power to cast out demons, He also called Judas (who betrayed Him, as is noted in all the accounts, Mk. 3:13 and par.). Notice that it was He Himself who called him. And as the Gospels see it, He does not do this naively or in ignorance. He is not surprised by what Judas does later. He knows very well what he will do. He calls him with this in view. He makes (v. 14) even this man His apostle. He could hardly have integrated His self-offering more clearly into His life's work than by bringing His παραδούς [betrayer] into this orderly association with Himself."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 258-259.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Short Reflection.

The assigned reading for the Barth seminar today (II.2, 733-781) made clear once again why Karl Barth became and remains my favorite theologian. Barth never ceases to remind me with such clarity and boldness that the Yes of God's grace always precedes the No of God's judgment for all humanity. And the No of God's judgment is not that which exists in antithesis to God's Yes of grace, but actually the former is an outworking of the latter. God's judgment occurs in the revelation of God's love. It is judgment that occurs inside a decision to be the God for us (Emmanuel) from all eternity. So this judgment is finally never to be feared because of the Yes in Jesus Christ. And this knowledge of radical grace truly compels us to worship and obedience.