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TAKING CARE OF GOD

An approach to Christian hermeneutics.

  • Commentary
  • Oct 26 2022
  • Senthuran Varatharajah
    is a German-Tamil poet, novelist, philosopher and theologian based in Berlin. His first novel, Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen, was published by S. Fischer in 2016, his second novel Rot (Hunger), was published by S. Fischer in 2022

I – Bend forward like a shape

Here, where the books were given names, and where each chapter is numbered, here, beneath the verses measuring the width of our lungs, here, where one single word will always, always have preceded us, here, on the pages thinner than paper, where our jaws were unlocked in fire and through twigs, God is waiting. Waiting: To be heard. Waiting: To be received. Waiting: For us – for our hands and mouths to prepare Their arrival. To point Them in the direction. To bring God home. Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. This God, as described in Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, kneeling on the floor like a wounded, like a tired animal, and bend forward like a shape, with one ear closer to the concrete and Their knuckles bruised and open, this God, in the dark alone, where there is no window to escape, and no door to enter, this God is not the God of the church and its teachings. This God is not omnipotent, nor omniscient. This God is not the God of fear, the God of guilt, the God of eternal punishment and hellfire so many of us had been taught to believe in and to obey. This God is a God in need: A God still waiting. Here, where our hands were folded by all those words They once spoke, here, where our eyes are crossed out by each sentence, here, where our knees will bend in the memory of a name, here, between the beginning, where there was a beginning, and the promise given to return at the end, here, and further beyond, from the Book of Genesis to the closing chapter of the Book of Revelation, from one cell to the other, a different God can be found. A God that depends on us. A God that is in need of us. A God that is nothing – without a witness. This wall is God’s page. Those signs knocked on the concrete are the language we must decipher: The language that was revealed to us, the language that was concealed for us, the language that was delivered to us, the language of an ancient scream, what we call Holy Scripture. This essay is an approach to Christian hermeneutics. This essay is an index finger pointed at the sky. This: is a sketch; a proposal. How to destroy God – to liberate and reach Them. 

II – As if God had baptized Themselves

We must imagine God in the water: As a God altering. But after it rained for forty days and for forty nights, here, until the entire earth was covered, every stretch of land, and even the mountains God had drowned in Their pain, in Their anger, and in Their regret just like every living being over the injustice of mankind They had witnessed, God remembered Noah, and all the beasts, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God restrained the rain from heaven (Genesis 8:1-2). During the flood, and through water that came and came, in those nights and the vastness of days, when there was no sound beyond the same sound, the sound of the previous and the following hours could be heard, God destroyed both: The creation – and the creator. As above: so below. After the flood, and in the rising water, as if God had baptized Themselves, God was changed, substantially: After the flood, God was someone, and somewhere else once again. Everything differs from what we were prepared to assume and taught to believe in, since God made Their first promise, a promise that was not given before, my covenant with you: Neither shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood; neither shall there be a flood to destroy the earth anymore (Genesis 9:11). The God of the church is a Platonic ideal: Infinite, eternal – immutable. In the creedal statement of the fourth council of Constantinople, for instance, or in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, God was described with the still-familiar attributes: ever-existing, ever the same, suffering no change or alteration; altogether immutable. But the God before the Word – was a different God than the God after the Word; but the God before the creation: was a different God than the God after the creation; but the God before the fall of man was a different God than the God after the fall of man; but the God before the flood: was a different God than the God after the flood; the God who saw Their son being crucified – must be a different God. For Heraclitus, all things moved like water, yet it was fire he considered the primary element of the world. And through fire and through twigs, on Mount Horeb, God revealed Their name to Moses: ehyeh asher ehyeh (Exodus 3:14) – I will be what, where, or how I will be. God is becoming. This is the first principle.

III – Beneath the oak trees and their branches

We must imagine God in the dark: As a God not knowing. Here in Mamre, where the ground was yellow and dry, and where there was enough shadow left beneath the oak trees and their branches the heat had lowered, here, in front of his tent, where Abraham sat, God came to him,  in the form of three angels in the shape of three men, through whom God later  spoke: Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see, whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know (Genesis 18:20-21). As a sign of concession to Abraham, chosen by God to become a people of God to bless all people here on Earth, and as a gesture of good will, a trust rooted in a second promise to give, because it was already given, God revealed Their intentions to him. The God of the church is a Platonic dream: Unmovable, perfect, and complete – all-knowing. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote: Your truth, bright, and beautiful above all. Curiosity affects desire for knowledge, whereas it is You who supremely knows all things. God’s omniscience, just as Their omnipotence and omnipresence, God’s immutability, eternity and aseity are, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the Westminster Shorter Catechism for instance, primary attributes characterizing and defining God’s very substance: What, where, and how They are. But everything differs from what we were prepared to assume and taught to believe in, since the Lord regretted that He made human beings on the earth and His heart was deeply troubled after seeing how great the wickedness of the human race had become (Genesis 6:5-6). As above: so below. If God was all knowing: why did They had to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah, to see what They had heard of those cities to see if all the laments were true? If God was all knowing, why did They say: And if not, I will know, when God should have already known? If God was all knowing, why didn’t They know the exact number of the righteous people living there? If God was all knowing, why were They disappointed in humanity? If God was all knowing: why did They send Their only son to us if God knew he would be killed? God is fallible. That is the second principle.

IV – And the quiet that follows

We must imagine God on the cross: As a God suffering. At noon, here, when the sixth hour came, and when darkness, when the darkest night fell over the whole land until the ninth hour (Mark 15:33), here, on an upright wooden beam and on the one imitating the horizon like both of His arms, here, on the cross, everything is suspended; all oppositions coincide: Immanence and transcendence, the sacred and the profane, eternity and mortality, elevation and humiliation, presence and absence, the word and the flesh, every beginning, and every possible end, the vertical line, and the horizontal, past tense and future perfect in the past, the son of man and the son of God, every tear we once shed, and all of our collected, dried eyes; a kiss, betrayal. Passion. Crucifixion. Execution. Resurrection and ascension; the death of death. As above – so below. In those three hours on the cross, and on Christ’s incarnated body, all words were assembled, revoked, and rearranged like in a prayer that summons the syllables that will have inhabited our mouths, and the quiet that follows. Everything differs from what we were prepared to assume and taught to believe in, since God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, God chose the things that are not to nullify the things that are (1. Corinthians 1:27). This is the messianic promise Christ embodies and still reveals. The God of the church is a Platonic idea: Aspatial, atemporal – apathetic. And indeed, it was Plato’s philosophy that church fathers like Clement of Alexandria and his student Origen incorporated into the dogmatic system of belief onto which the Church still holds. But if Christ is the son of God – and, according to the Holy Trinity, God Himself – and if God is Christ’s parent – a parent who has witnessed Their son being taken, tortured, and killed – the God of the Bible cannot be aspatial, atememporal, or apathetic; God is the exact opposite. In a letter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: The God who is with us, is the God who forsakes us. God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross; He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which Christ is with us, and helps us. He helps us not by virtues of his omnipotence but by his weakness and suffering. God is weak. This is the third principal.

V – When the youngest son came back

We must imagine God in a cell: As a God alone. If a child is lost – a parent is lost as well. When the youngest son came back, after having wasted his entire inheritance in a distant country, after poverty and a famine made him return to his father’s house many years later, his father welcomed him, without hesitation, without resentments: He was lost, and is found (Luke 15:32). It is the same with God and us. But if God is becoming fallible and weak, if the God of the Bible is not the God of the church, or of Plato and Aristotle, it is on us – on us alone – to perform the faithful iconoclastic task of destroying false images, and to salvage God from the heavy debris lying on top of the Holy Scripture. It is, then, our duty, our responsibility and response, to take care of God – to guide Them. To protect Them. To bring God safely back home. The God of the church is a Platonic sun: independent, self-sufficient – and lonely. In Anselm of Canterbury’s Monologion, God exists from Himself only, and through Himself alone. But the exact opposite – is true. In the moment of creation, God agreed, maybe unknowingly, to an unprecedented relation, to a covenant before all covenants, to a promise prior to all promises that cannot be revoked anymore, or undone. God spared Noah: for that reason. God chose Abraham: for that reason. For that very reason – God sent Their only son to us. A God without a witness is a God alone. Everything differs from what we were prepared to assume and taught to believe in, since on this cross, and in that hour, Christ spoke in a quote, referring to a Psalm, citing Psalm 22:2:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt 27:46). As above: so below. If Christ is the son of God, and therefore God Himself, we must also understand that sentence as God’s Words about us. Since we have forsaken God,  we must create the conditions for Their return: we need to take care of Them, a notion unfamiliar to every form of institutionalized Christianity, but not to many indigenous cultures like the Lakota, Dakota or the Nakota Sioux tribes that look after the nature they worship, the Missouri River for instance, or to pillaitamil, an old South Indian Hindu devotional genre of poetry in which deities are described as babies or young children about whom one worries: Who we have to nurture, who we have to care for, and to protect. God needs us. This is the fourth principle.

VI - By everything that happens here

Here, where the books were given names, and where each chapter is numbered,  here, through the verses measuring the width of our lungs and on the pages thinner than paper, God is still waiting – so close to us, in Their cell. In his poem You, God, who live next door, Rainer Maria Rilke described a setting like to the one Simone Weil had imagined: You, God, who live next door / if I sometimes disturb you in the long night/with a hard knock, it’s because I rarely hear you breathe/and I know that you are alone in that room. /And when you need something, no one is there to give you a drink: / I always listen. Give a little sign. I am very close. Taking care of God means that, and only that: If we were made in God’s likeness, if God created us a little lower than the Angels, and a little lower than yourself (Psalm 8:5), taking care of Them can only mean taking care of us; of each other. It is as simple as that; as hard as this. But here, where our hands were folded by all those words They once spoke, here, from one cell to the other, a different God can be found: the God of Scripture as a God of another poetry. The Hebrew words Ehyeh asher ehyeh were translated differently into Greek and Latin by the church: ego eimi ho on, as well es ego sum qui sumI am who I am or I am who is. The Hebrew translation by Rabbi Sacks, I will be what, where, or how I will be, emphasizes a future the church deliberately prevents. But God is becoming, nevertheless, and They are affected by all our actions: By everything that happens here on Earth, since the history of mankind has become the history of God; since not only the Creator creates the creation: The creation creates the creator, too. If we point our index finger at the sky, three fingers are always pointing back at us. But God is not above us: They are below us. Among us. In each one of us. But what, John D. Caputo writes in What would Jesus Deconstruct?, but what then is the kingdom of God? Where is it found? It is found every time an offense is forgiven, every time a stranger is made welcome, every time an enemy is embraced, every time the least among us is lifted up, every time the law is made to serve justice. Every time a prophetic voice is raised against injustice. Every time the law and the prophets are summed up by love. This is how we must take care of ourselves. This is how we prepare God’s arrival, and Their way back home.

This is how we break the wall between our cells. 

This is how we liberate ourselves: by liberating God and the Holy Scripture

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  • Footnotes
    .
    Image: Jonathas de Andrade - Exhibition view of 'With the heart coming out of the mouth' at the 2022 Brazilian Pavilion, 59th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia; courtesy Ding Musa / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

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