Thursday, January 11, 2007

Creation, Creativity and Humility

An interesting observation from Finnish theologian Patrik Hagman's blog God in a Shrinking Universe. In his reflection on the systematic theological work of Panneberg, Hagman writes:

It is my firm belief that to be a Christian involves cultivating one's creativity. We believe in a God who created heaven and earth out of the ouk on. Divine creativity, according to Christian doctrine, is not about systemizing pre-existent ideas, it is bringing into being that which previously was not.

Obviously, as creations we cannot create ex nihilo, but we are still called to be the likeness of God. Creativity is what we are called to.

The gnostic notion of creation is stable. It is perfect (and thus evil, even the gnostic recognized that). This is not the case of the Christian notion. Even when God creates the result is not perfect, but it is good. God's creation has this element of insecurity in it, something that makes it alive. Maybe this is a way of understanding evil - it has to be to make creation able to move. (I know, this is metaphysics, don't use this in counseling...) Anyway, this, too is the case of human creativity - its goal is not to make something perfect, it is to make something that is alive.
What immediately comes to mind for me in Hagman's comments is that theological creativity is not a matter so much of doing something new for newness sake. Instead we are called to bringing life to something that is dead. Or maybe I should say we are called by Christ to enliven modes of speaking about the Christian faith that have grown stale and dull. How much, for example, of today passes for theology and theological scholarship is not only intellectually rigorous and challenging, but able to lift the heart and mind to God in prayer and contemplation?

A lively theology, because it aims at being "good" and even "beautiful" rather than "perfect," is "easy to criticize." This is inescapably the case if, in imitation of God, our theological scholarship--and really any scholarship worthy of the name Christian--has the same open-end quality that God gives to His creation. Again, Hagman's point is well taken, creation is not "perfect," but "good," and even "very good." As a result "God's creation has this element of insecurity in it." But it is creations' " very insecurity that makes it alive."

As creatures we cannot be alive without also being dynamic. God has created us to be ever changing, ever growing not only relative to the creation and ourselves and , but above all in our relationship with Him. If there is one word that does not describe a healthy relationship with Christ it is static. While Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever," I am not. To dismiss the changeability of the human as a defect, or worse a consequence of sin, shows a profound lack of gratitude to my Creator.

We are not God, but human beings; we are not Infinite, but finite; we are not Eternal, but temporal. And it is the latter qualities (qualities that a gnostic theology would dismiss) that make it possible for us to grow in holiness, to grow in love, and the knowledge of the truth.

Christian scholarship rightly understood is dynamic and life-giving. Yes this means a certain degree of insecurity, but it is the insecurity that is our lot as sinners in rebellion from our Creator. To flee that insecurity and take refugee in a static theological system--no matter how doctrinally orthodox--is no solution.

We should rather take up in faith the task of reflecting on reality. If this is done in a faith-filled manner it will demand of us the humility of a creature in the face of his Creator. Humility, as G.K. Chesterton reminds us, is a matter of "holding. . . ourselves lightly and yet ready for an infinity of unmerited triumphs." The world, and this includes "Christian" scholars, holds humility in contempt. For all its sophistication and valuing of success and practicality, the world (and "Christian" scholarship) cannot understand that
Humility is so practical a virtue that men think it must be a vice. Humility is so successful that it is mistaken for pride. It is mistaken for it all the more easily because it generally goes with a certain simple love of splendour which amounts to vanity. Humility will always, by preference, go clad in scarlet and gold; pride is that which refuses to let gold and scarlet impress it or please it too much. In a word, the failure of this virtue actually lies in its success; it is too successful as an investment to be believed in as a virtue. Humility is not merely too good for this world; it is too practical for this world; I had almost said it is too worldly for this world.
The lively scholarship that Christians are called to engage in is nothing more or less than a life of intellectual humility. Again Chesterton:
It will indeed be difficult, in the present condition of current thought about such things as pride and humility, to answer the query of how a man can be humble who does such big things and such bold things. For the only answer is the answer which I gave at the beginning of this essay. It is the humble man who does the big things. It is the humble man who does the bold things. It is the humble man who has the sensational sights vouchsafed to him, and this for three obvious reasons: first, that he strains his eyes more than any other men to see them; second, that he is more overwhelmed and uplifted with them when they come; third, that he records them more exactly and sincerely and with less adulteration from his more commonplace and more conceited everyday self. Adventures are to those to whom they are most unexpected--that is, most romantic. Adventures are to the shy: in this sense adventures are to the unadventurous.
Life is so much more than we deserve. But again as Chesterton observes, the "truth is that there are no things for which men will make such herculean efforts as the things of which they know they are unworthy." After all there "never was a man in love who did not declare that, if he strained every nerve to breaking, he was going to have his desire. And there never was a man in love who did not declare also that he ought not to have it. The whole secret of the practical success of Christendom lies in the Christian humility, however imperfectly fulfilled."

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Is this Your Jesus?

With much thanks to Andy at Think Christian:

For too many of us Jesus comes and brings not a word of liberation and new life, but petty condemnation. While the video does a good job of poking fun at some typical Evangelical Christian misconceptions about Jesus the insight is just as applicable to Orthodox Christians.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory