Friday, January 22, 2010

'Where Are You?' is God's Question in Christ

I wish to bring together two quite distinct moments in Scripture, one OT, one NT, in an effort to explore a strange question: how do we find our way back to creatureliness?

The first is Genesis 3.8-9. You know the story. The fruit of the tree has been eaten; A&E just kicked off the first clothing line on earth; God is heard walking in the garden, 'in the cool of the day', and his creatures, made in the image of God, scramble to hide. I just recently realised they scramble not, it seems, out of a sense of shame, but out of fear (3.10). I'll get back to that.

But here the main point I want to emphasise is this - God asks A&E a peculiar question: where are you? (3.9). Mind you the open theists generally do murder to this question. They bring out all that is evil in Calvinists, whilst Arminians can't help but act smug. Here's my two cents: settle down, you three. No one 'gets' this question by starting with a nuisance philosophical idea. For St. Augustine will have us see that this question is what invites us to confess, not first to analyse. That is, in where are you? divine justice is all mixed up with divine love: God is in search of man, and this seeks to expose more about us than it does about Him - though of course it tells us something about Him as well. This brings me, then, to the next time God is in search of man.

For this I turn to Luke 22.54-62, also well-known. This is the moment in Christ's Passion where St. Peter, very friend of God, confessor of the Christ, denies this Christ three times. We drop into the narrative at the moment the cock crows: 'And the Lord turned and looked at Peter' (22.61). The Lord turns and looks: why? I believe I have elsewhere expounded on this look, if not on this blog then somewhere! For what it's worth, I think Kierkegaard does a masterful job in his Works of Love to emphasise in what this look consists. Our purpose here is to draw Christ's look into the 'looking' God does for A&E in Genesis 3. Suppose the look of Christ asks Peter: where are you? What is the invitation to? What is being asked of Peter? What is being done for Peter? And for us by extension, now?

Well, here's my thought. Over the last few months I have been preoccupied with the strange idea that we humans are, well, not just humans, but creatures. We are all creatures created out of nothing, ex nihilo. For most of my Christian life, though, if I thought of creatureliness at all, I assumed I knew what it was. I 'presupposed' it, you could say, every time I spoke of 'man' or 'humanity' or read in St. John or St. Paul about 'the world' etc.

Yet after reading Augustine, and taking into consideration the challenge of confession which he points me to, I've had to abandon this facile presumption, and in the following way. I have come to see, in essence, that it is a hard thing to embrace our creatureliness. It is a hard thing, not least because it calls us forward into confession. It calls us forward, you could say, into a kind of existence that we do not always want to exist in. For my evidence, just look at A&E; just look at Peter.

Adam and Eve
After the episode with the serpent, A&E rush to put on fig leaves. When they hear the Lord, they hide among the trees in the garden. What are they doing? Maybe they are ashamed, sexually so - that's a legitimate reading. But note that it is not shame that Adam confesses, but fear. He was in fear of God, so he and Eve rushed to hide among the trees. No doubt they were afraid because of the one command they knew they broke. Bearing the image of God, they must have known, in so far as all the other animals shared no such command, that they possessed a kind of existence that was different. They were called to something different, an accountability you could say. But now look what they do: they rush into the garden, in fig leaves, and hide behind other creatures - trees - thus they try to 'blend in' with the rest of creation. What's this? They want to fade back in to the third or fifth day of creation. Not the sixth, the crowning day of creation. That would be to identify with the creature made in the image of God. That creatureliness is something to fear. It calls forth from us too much.

Now to Peter: the look of Christ follows upon three efforts on Peter's part to 'blend in' with the rest of the crowd. Not wanting to be identified as the disciple of Jesus Christ, Peter is content to throw away that friendship. No doubt he is afraid - as A&E in the garden, the Lord walking in the cool of the day to meet them, his friends, Adam says he was 'afraid' when he heard Him approach. Now with Peter, however, shame has also set in. Perhaps most of all, Peter is ashamed of the humanity of the man he recently confessed was the Christ. For we almost sense, in reading Gen. 3.10, that A&E don't really 'get it' when it comes to what they've done. They cannot feel the shame 'all the way down' - thus the ease with which they confess to God might strike us as rather naive and unfamiliar. Peter, however, knows his shame. He knows his shame because he sees His shame - the shame of the cross, on which the Christ, the very Son of God, is about to die. Peter knows his shame, the shame of creatureliness, because he sees it displayed and so carried in the one true representative of human creatures, the 'second Adam' - Jesus, the Christ. Peter does not want to identify with it. So Christ's look: where are you? So God's looking: where are you? This is the question that hangs over the door of our creatureliness.

And it is a burdensome question, to be sure. Remember, though: Christ as the 'true humanity' is Christ as the true image of God (Col. 1.15). We are called to find our way back to creatureliness - called, that is, for we only search because we are being sought. The 'looking' for us which Gen. 3.9 and Luke 22.61 reveal is what sustains our quest and draws us back. Christ draws us back, as Christ drew Peter back. With the 'looking' of God we find that God stands in the way of our lost sense of creatureliness, our lost place as God's friend. He holds that position in place, as it were, despite our hiding in fig leaves among the trees. He is not abandoning us. He looks for us, as He also shows us the way.

One final thought: God does not only ask 'where are you?' to us in the look of Christ, but He also allows Christ to ask that of Himself: on the cross, God's Son asks God the Father, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' (cf. Matthew 27.46, Mark 15.34). This is finally a question put to God, which God Himself asks. I don't know if I can say much more about that. It will take me eternity, I'm afraid, to grasp what it might mean.

But the road back to our creatureliness: does it not begin with a question?

1 comment: