Tag Archives: Kierkegaard
If I’d been given advance knowledge of how this would go–all the medical stuff, the sick nights, the background hum of destruction–when we were asked to take her, I honestly don’t know what I would have said. So it’s a mercy that I didn’t know, because as hard as it’s been, I don’t regret it. She is barnacled to me for everything from bedtime to bathroom trips to doing kitchen chores. I can’t pretend that I don’t sometimes resent this, especially now as I am trying to make my peace with her departure from our home. “Please don’t need me like this,” I mean to say when I just get frustrated.
In the story Jesus tells, the Samaritan doesn’t say any of that. He is moved with pity. He sees the wounded man and doesn’t see a moral puzzle to solve. He isn’t out looking for ways to do good or make himself into a better person. He simply sees a fellow human who is suffering, who will die if he goes without water for four days, who will bleed to death in minutes or hours if his wounds are not bound up, who will wither away from infection if he is not cleaned. Who sweats and breathes and passes gas and loved his mother and misses his children and is less than perfectly honest and could do better and be better but who most importantly is there. Before the Samaritan’s eyes.
It’s as if he were to say, “Go, seek God, have spiritual experiences, work for social justice, redeem the academic project, build a growing and spirit-filled worshiping community if that’s what you want to do, but please, please don’t follow me. It will only bring you sorrow and bitterness.”
So by this view the ultimately Godless event would be something like the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints dismantling the hapless Minnesota Vikings 42-20. It’s low in cosmic significance and high in probability.
It is the strangest thing that we have in our holy book. It’s not a story of worldly success–much as preachers have tried to make it out to be just that. It’s not a story of patiently resigning ourselves to worldly evil. It’s a story, told in a hundred different ways, of giving the world up and then getting it back again. If we actually had to live it ourselves, how would we bear it–the walk to Moriah with Abraham and Isaac, the flight to Zarephath, the warning against the people who organize God’s worship, the chaos and terror of Golgotha?
I didn’t stay there. If I were assured of a hundred more years to live I don’t know that I would ever read Niebuhr again. Part of the problem with the blazing sunset era of high Protestant theology was that its authors sought to provide us with a place to stand–where faith and reason, revelation and science all worked together–when all they could offer was a point of transit. From the perspective of one moving out of Christian faith, however defined, those points of transit seem feeble and dishonest. For one moving into it, they can seem necessary and providential. Christians have a tendency to ask for kinds of assurance, whether from theological faculties, great collections of bishops, or second-century papyrus, that none of these can give. Our needs and our doubts give shape to the theories of revelation or ecclesiology or whatever else that we may then point to in order to meet them.
The corner of Twitter in which I do most of my reading and arguing has been furiously arguing over the story of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child in Bologna secretly baptized by his family’s maid, and Pope Pius IX, who removed him from his home in accordance with law forbidding a Catholic child to be […]
(Note: I preached this sermon on the third Sunday in Advent, 2011) Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. “Then the angel departed from her.” Does anyone else just want to burst into tears when you hear this verse at the end of today’s […]
(Note: I wrote this in March, 2005. I repost it for Kierkegaard’s commemoration tomorrow) Last night a friend I hadn’t seen in some months happened to be in Hyde Park just as I was winding down from a long shift of paper-writing. Figuring that I could spare the time, we resolved to meet up for […]
(Note: I wrote this in 2011. Reposting here for Kierkegaard’s commemoration tomorrow) People have been getting beyond Christianity for a long time. “In our time,” Søren Kierkegaard wrote in 1843, “nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further.” It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is […]