Reading Jesus’ words with Derrida it seems that salvation, like the perfect gift, becomes impossible: no one can lose his or her life without some selfish kernel remaining of wanting to save it, and thus no one is saved. We are caught in a constant bind of personal benefit and sacrifice - our deliverance a gift that is impossible to give and impossible to receive.
Some have given up wrestling with this text. Neutering the most important phrase in the Gospels, they have collapsed the paradox held within it by siding with selfishness. They practice a religion of the self, a prosperous gospel housed in a gated development, dedicated to the service of a domesticated God. From this comfortable bed is conceived fear of difference, mistrust of strangers and self-righteous faith that leads to fundamentalism. On the surface this fundamentalism seems so right and true. It believes strongly, and prays fiercely for revival. But one wonders if these prayers are perhaps pleas for God to make everyone like us, to turn the other into someone who believes the same things that we do. Realizing that there will be wicked and stubborn others who refuse to become like us, we then pray for God to cleanse and purify our land, to banish wickedness and build a new utopia…and, horrifically, in Rwanda God appeared to answer.
Here’s the thing. Christians seem to think that because the Bible is inspired, all of it should be taken literally. Jews don’t do this. Even though we take the Torah literally (all 613 commandments!), the rest is seen differently, as a way of understanding our Creator, rather than direct commands. Take Proverbs 31, for example. I get called an eshet chayil (a valorous woman) all the time. Make your own challah instead of buying? Eshet chayil! Work to earn some extra money for the family? Eshet chayil! Make balloon animals for the kids at Shul? Eshet chayil! Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings the Proverbs 31 poem to me. It’s special because I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, he praises me for blessing the family with my energy and creativity. All women can do that in their own way. I bet you do as well.
The cross in the church symbolizes the contradiction which comes into the church from the God who was crucified ‘outside’. Every symbol points beyond itself to something else. Every symbol invites thought. The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but a change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God. Where this contradiction in the cross, and its revolution in religious values, is forgotten, the cross ceases to be a symbol and becomes an idol, and no longer invites a revolution in thought, but the end of thought in self-affirmation.
The popular belief in immortality which in the Western world has largely replaced the Christian symbol of resurrection is a mixture of courage and escape. It tries to maintain one’s self-affirmation even in the face of one’s having to die. But it does this by continuing one’s finitude, that is one’s having to die, infinitely, so that the actual death never will occur. This, however, is an illusion and, logically speaking, a contradiction in terms. It makes endless what, by definition, must come to an end. The “immortality of the soul” is a poor symbol for the courage to be in the face of one’s having to die.
Paracletic language is the language of the Holy Spirit, a language of relationship and intimacy, a way of speaking and listening that gets the words of Jesus inside us so that they become us. It is not explanation. It is God’s word on our side, within us, working out the details in the circumstances of our lives…No matter how brilliantly and forcefully we preach the good news of salvation, and no matter how accurately and thoroughly we teach the truth of the kingdom, if we don’t master the idiom of paraclesis, the chances of growing to the ‘measure of the full stature of Christ’ are dim.
Church that depreciates humanity often develops an impressive spirituality: intense Bible studies, prayer and fasting, programs and causes, dreams and visions, crusades and inspirational appeals to move mountains. But it is also a spirituality curiously deficient of human relationships, welcoming, and hospitable intimacies. Men and women, including our own souls, are depersonalized and abstracted into causes to be pursued or problems to be fixed. Church becomes an impersonal project. All in the name of Jesus, of course, but there doesn’t appear to be much of Jesus’ humanity in the details. When church fails to embrace the divinity of Jesus as its own imputed divinity - God’s forgiveness and salvation, God’s love and sanctification - it betrays its core identity as Christ’s body. And when church fails to embrace the humanity of Jesus as its own humanity - personal, local, earthy, humble - it betrays its core identity as a dwelling place for God.
This vision of Paul’s (There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28) is often domesticated by those who would wish to turn this radical vision on its head and claim that he really means we must lay down all earthly identities in order to take up another identity, that of being a Christian. All identities are thus rendered impotent in relation to this unique super-identity. However, what if Paul is not saying that there is one identity that renders all others moot, but rather that in the very giving up of all your identities, we identify with Christ? Here Christianity is not yet another positive identity/worldview/mythology that can be placed alongside all others but is rather the name we give to the act of laying these down. The Christian community is not then distinct because it embraced yet another identity, but rather is unique in the way that its members lay down the various identities that would otherwise define them…In theological terms, this giving up of identity can be described as participating in kenosis…In this way we can read Paul’s statement in the book of Galatians as a description of how, in the very act of becoming nothing, we identify with Christ. We can even say that in Christ there is neither Christian nor non-Christian - for the word “Christian” itself now refers to the embrace of a concrete identity, with a concrete mythology, rather than the renunciation of these.
In contrast to the modern view that religious doubt is something to reject, fear or merely tolerate, doubt not only can be seen as an inevitable aspect of our humanity but also can be celebrated as a vital part of faith. Doubt has often been disparaged, or merely tolerated, because it is seen as leading to an inert state of undecidability in which nothing can be believed or acted upon. Yet in reality it is only in the midst of undecidability that real decisions can be made.
For instance, take the example of two people getting married with the firm conviction that the union will last as long as they both live. In this state of obvious delusion no real decision needs to be made. The future is believed to be so certain that the decision to marry requires no decision at all. Yet if two people understand that their relationship will face various hardships, that the future is uncertain and that there are no guarantees, then far from preventing a decision, this is the very point when a real decision needs to be made. The vows of marriage are not so much affirmations of what one believes will take place but rather promises that one will work towards ensuring that it will indeed happen. To decide for marriage knowing that all manner of things may conspire against the union is to make a truly daring and authentic decision - the only type of decision worthy of the name. Here we can see that doubt provides the context out of which real decision occurs and real love is tested, for love will say ‘yes’ regardless of uncertainty. A love that requires contracts and absolute assurance in order to act is no love at all.
Understand that the ‘old man’ is not there. The only way to stop living as if he were still there is to realize that he is not there. That is the New Testament method of teaching sanctification. The whole trouble with us, says the New Testament, is that we do not realize what we are, that we still go on thinking we are the old man, and go on trying to do things to the old man. That has been done; the old man was crucified with Christ. He is non-existent, he is no longer there… If we but saw this as we should, we would really begin to live as Christians in this world.
When we are emotionally healthy our tanks are filled by God and not people. When we are emotionally healthy, we don’t need affirmation from the other gender to feel worthwhile and whole. When we are emotionally healthy, we are not nearly as vulnerable to inappropriate emotional attachments that wound our siblings.