Friday, 1 April 2011

Divine Exile

Still harping on this? Yes, yes.

I'm wondering how far it is possible to conceptualise the incarnation as a kind of exile of God from God (if you see what I mean). God is sent away to a far place, and for a time even believes he has been abandoned there ('why hast thou forsaken me?' and so on).

We may be distracted by the thought that God’s ‘exiling’ of Christ consists of the fact that he was born into human poverty rather than riches, a carpenter rather than a prince, a Jew on the edge of Empire rather than a senator in Rome—that kind of logic. From a human perspective, it is more exilic to be socially, racially and economically marginalised. But presumably from God’s perspective (as it were) the disjunction between transcendent divine plenitude and human existence is already so colossal than quibbling over whether the specific human existence has a little more, or a little less, money or status is surely beside the point.

To test this hypothesis, we can essay a thought experiment: imagine Christ being incarnated a wealthy Roman senator, rather than a poor Jewish carpenter. He would wear finer clothes, eat better food, and live in a nicer house. By how much would these improvements diminish the gap between mortal existence and Divine plenitude? By how much less would such a figure have been exiled than was actually the case?

Can this be right, though? So much of Christ’s ministry is about the chasm between rich mortality and poor mortality. How does that look sub specie aeternitatis? Or to put it another way: if, from that perspective, it looks trivial, then maybe it is the perspective itself that must give way? That is to say: the burden of Christ’s mission was a focus upon the passing, temporal and relative standings of humanity; it was a mission exactly designed to dissolve the notion that we should regard things from the perspective of eternity. It may be tempting to think: when I have lived ten million years of afterlife and I look back at my mayfly mortal existence, it will surely seem unimportant whether I lived on £5.93 an hour rather than £100,000 pa, or vice versa. That will seem neither here nor there in larger terms. Which is to say: from the perspective of eternity—if, for instance, we talk in terms of ‘the immortal soul’ and try to see things from its p.o.v.—a human existence lived in poverty looks very like a human existence lived in wealth; or more precisely, the differences acquire the patina of unimportant epiphenomena. But this is not what the gospels say.

Of course (and this can’t be stressed enough) from the point of view of actual lived-experience, a life lived in poverty feels massively different when compared to a live lived with comfortable wealth. It is more than simply a question of material privation; it engages discourses of justice and injustice, of physical and mental health, of society as a whole. It is precisely the talent of lived-experience to erase the perspective of immortality. In the deepest sense, this is what the incarnation means. At a hundred points, it seems to me, the gospels reinforce this point.

I wonder if this is the force of Mark 10:15? Not innocence, but that uniquely childlike immersion in the present -- the way the deep past literally doesn't exist for them, the far future is a blank, and time goes so very slowly because they are so completely in their moment ...

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