Thursday, May 21, 2015
This past Easter was difficult for me. I have been questioning a lot, doubting a lot. I wasn't doubting the crucifixion or the resurrection, but I was struggling with what those meant. What exactly was sacrificed? What was gained? Was it purely the violent, physical death of an innocent man that somehow assured my salvation? How does that work? Why does that work?
And what kind of God would orchestrate such a macabre atonement?
What if forgiveness is the sacrifice?
This is why forgiveness is a gift, is the gift, the impossible, which is why we love it so. Because it is impossible. It's absurd, irrational, and illogical. The notion that one should repent and then be forgiven approaches logic. At least there is some admittance of guilt, some request for restitution. But that's not really forgiveness. Forgiveness forgoes the need of repentance, apology, or even acknowledgement. Forgiveness is a sacrifice of what is owed to us, of what we deserve. It's a sacrifice of self-respect and dignity. To forgive is to lose much. To forgive is to lose all. That's the real sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Not a human sacrifice to satisfy some deranged bloodlust. No, it's God's sacrifice of what is owed to him. It's his sacrifice of his respect, of his dignity, of what he deserves. It is the ultimate lowering of the deity. There is no justice in forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is the absence of justice. It's the sacrifice of God's justice. It's the sacrifice of God's holiness. It's the sacrifice of God's glory. For how could God maintain the pretense of his glory when he welcomes such sinners into his presence? And why would he do this? Out of love? Love is ridiculous. Love is illogical, irrational, and downright stupid. Divine love is divinely stupid. And it is that stupidity of God's love that leads him to forfeit his claims to all his greatness. Don't get me wrong, I fully believe that God deserves his justice, to be holy, to receive glory and be glorified.
But God forgoes all these divine attributes that he deserves. He forsakes them out of his love for us. His forgiveness is a negation of these. John D. Caputo calls God's unconditional, irrational love and forgiveness (which we are called to emulate) the madness of the Kingdom of God. Slavoj Žižek calls the incarnation, the absurd notion that God would lower himself to become flesh, the monstrosity of Christ. If the God that becomes a man is a monstrosity, how much more monstrous is the God that forgives?
The intriguing thing is that a great and powerful God that demands, even coerces us, to love him is easy not to love. It's easy to find the will, motivation, and strength to defy such a God. But a God that humbles himself, perhaps humbles himself absolutely, in order to forgive me, truly humbles me.
I can't stand in defiance to that. I can't even stand before that. I'm so astounded by this sacrifice that I collapse in awe. What do I say to such a divine monstrosity of love?
Concerning classical negative theologians, Catherine Keller beautifully writes, "I no longer know how not to love their love of a love that exceeds anything you can name and that appears epiphanically almost, almost, as nothing - no Person, Being, One, God, no idea. But it is no more nothing than it is everything."1
The sacrifice is everything. The negation is everything. The humbling forgiveness, the monstrous, downright stupid love of God is everything. And I don't know how to encounter a God of this amorous madness and not experience overwhelming love.
God is not just. God is not holy. God is not glorified. And this is good news. This is the good news.
Let me say that this is not a position I am set upon. This is not a stand I'm making to be my very last, nor do I intend to convert one and all to this stance. This is not the ending point of my theology. It's not even the starting point. Faith is a process, a journey. This is merely another step along the way. Where this all is taking me, I do not know.
But that's the fun.
1.Catherine Keller, Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 85.
*But many of us dislike such unconditional, divine forgiveness. God forgave me, yes, yes, as he should, but I still call down for his judgement upon those sinners that are far worse than me. Well, God has rained down his judgement upon those sinners, and it was forgiveness. His judgement is forgiveness. And this pisses us off. With a raised, indignant fist I shout to the sky, "God, how could you forgive these motherfuckers?!"
And God looks down at me and whispers, "Because I forgave a motherfucker like you."