Every poet, consciously or unconsciously, holds the following absolute presuppositions, as the dogmas of his art:
(1) A historical world exists, a world of unique events and unique persons, related by analogy, not identity. The number of events and analogical relations is potentially infinite. The existence of such a world is a good, and every addition to the number of events, persons and relations is an additional good.
(2) The historical world is a fallen world, i.e. though it is good that it exists, the way in which it exists is evil, being full of unfreedom and disorder.
(3) The historical world is a redeemable world. The unfreedom and disorder of the past can be reconciled in the future.
It follows from the first presupposition that the poet’s activity in creating a poem is analogous to God’s activity in creating man after his own image. It is not an imitation, for were it so, the poet would be able to create like God ex nihilo; instead, he requires pre-existing occasions of feeling and a pre-existing language out of which to create. It is analogous in that the poet creates ￼not necessarily according to a law of nature but voluntarily according to provocation.
W. H. Auden, from The Dyer’s Hand (via ayjay)
Auden, channelling Tolkien.
Two particular things I gained from Colin are worthy of mention. First, a sense of joy in the possibilities of the discipline of theology: the intellectual work is hard, and is also important, but there is more than that: Colin attributed it to Barth, and it is certainly there, but he appropriated it more than any other Barth scholar I have met: theology done properly must be cheerful work. How can we speak (read; write) of God’s infinite grace poured out without limit in the gift of Jesus Christ, and not find our hearts warmed, our sorrows comforted, our failures rendered into proper perspective? How can we not be basically joyful, if to do this is our life’s work?
Second, a belief that theology belongs – not just to the church, but to the churches. Colin and I came from traditions that differed on baptism, but were joined by a commitment to congregationalist ecclesiology: it is the local, gathered, congregation that is (in John Smyth’s words) ‘the chief and principal part of the gospel’. The theologian cannot do his/her work without being seriously committed to a particular local fellowship, with all its eccentricities, peculiarities, joys, and frustrations. Too much theology, still, regards the churches as embarrassing, and tries to proceed by cruising 30 000 feet above their messy lives. It was from Colin that I learned that this can never be right.
Instead of a life of experience, Christ calls us to a life of love. And a life of love for the most part means attending to the tedious details of others’ lives, and serving them in sacrificial ways that most days feels, well, not exciting at all. Rather than sweeping the kitchen, cleaning the toilet, listening to the talkative and boring neighbor, slopping eggs onto a plate at the homeless shelter, or crunching numbers for another eight hours at the office—surely life is meant for more than this. We are tempted to wonder, Is that all there is to the “abundant” Christian life? Shouldn’t my life be more adventurous if God is in me and all around me? How am I going to be all I’m supposed to be if I have to empty bedpans in Peoria? I would just die if I had to do that.
Yes, you would. Jesus called it dying to self. Love is precisely denying the self that wants to glory in experience. The cost of discipleship most of us are asked to pay is to live the life God has given us, serving in mundane ways the people he has put in our path. To be free from the self and to discover such love is the essence of abundant life.
As Paul put it, in the final analysis love is not about speaking in tongues, having prophetic powers, understanding all mysteries or knowledge, having experiences of wonder, or being all we can be. Love instead “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Yes, endures. It endures now because it hopes. And it hopes because it has not yet been given in full what is promised, but only glimpses here and there, mere appetizers to the great kingdom feast.
It is not hard to see why the religion of experience—the experience that Rob Bell is now writing about—tempts one to make feeling an idol, or how a religion of feeling leads to the watering down of great gospel themes. Historians of theology have shown such connections time and again. What’s hard to understand is why so many Christians who claim they stand for the faith once delivered to the saints don’t see that the road of experience leads nowhere except to the barren desert of the self.
If you have some fondness for this body, and you are sorry to be unyoked from what you love, do not be in despair about this. [You will receive your own body] woven again from the same elements, not indeed with its present course and heavy texture, but with the thread respun into something subtler and lighter… so that the beloved body may be with you and be restored to you again in better and even more lovable beauty.
The Body is Meant for the Lord
“We might still ask, however, whether Aquinas’ affirmation that humankind’s ultimate destiny is the vision of God (and no lesser project) makes the kingdom of God fundamentally otherworldly rather than a place of transformed bodiliness. In answer, we can recall that God promises to ‘swallow up death for ever’ and to ‘wipe away tears from all faces’ (Isa. 25:8). Plato’s mistake—an understandable one—lay in his inability to conceive of God sustaining human bodies in an incorruptible state, so that embodied persons are able to commune everlastingly with divine realities. Jesus’ resurrection reveals God’s plan for our bodiliness. Indeed, no human intimacy with God can be fully human when it lacks bodily expression. Aquinas points out that the soul’s separation form the body after death holds ‘the soul back from ending with all its might to the vision of the divine essence. For the soul desires to enjoy God in such a way that the enjoyment also may overflow into the body.’ As Paul emphasizes, the body is meant ‘for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’ (1 Cor. 6:13). The body will be fully ‘for the Lord’ in the resurrection.”
[Matthew Levering, Jesus and the Demise of Death, 114]
It Gives Man What He Wanted
“And the bad thing about this being in hell in the Old Testament sense is that the dead can no longer praise God, they can no longer see his face, they can no longer take part in the Sabbath services of Israel. It is a state of exclusion from God, and that makes death so fearful, makes hell what it is. That man is separated from God means being in the place of torment. “Wailing and gnashing of teeth’—our imagination is not adequate to this reality, this existence without God. The atheist is not aware of what godlessness is. Godlessness is existence in hell. What else but this is left as the result of sin? Has not man separated himself from God by his own act? ‘Descended into hell’ is merely confirmation of it. God’s judgment is righteous — that is, it gives man what he wanted. God would not be God, the Creator would not be the Creator, the creature would not be the creature, and man would not be man, if this verdict and his execution could be stayed.”
[Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline, 118]
The purpose of theology - the purpose of any thinking about God - is to make the silences clearer and starker to us, to make the unmeaning - by which I mean those aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings - more irreducible and more terrible, and thus ultimately more wonderful. This is why art is so often better at theology than theology is.