Sunday, September 13, 2009

God, rid me of God/me ...

It was Meister Eckhart who prayed that strange prayer, "God, rid me of God." It's a lovely prayer that deconstructionist, 'emergent types' like John Caputo (b.1940) and Peter Rollins (b. 1973) have embraced, because for them it represents a radical solution to flawed arrogance of Modernist absolutism. It's the idea that we need the real of God of All to destroy the idols that we have made in his name. Rich Mullins (1955-1997) echoes this when he says, "God is a jealous God and He will not share Himself with even the best ideas we have about Him." This is true, and we should affirm it as true. But we should also be careful of the consequences of making this kind of negative theology the only relevant theology.

In constantly seeking to destroy idols or have them destroyed, we may rid ourselves of true ideals as well. In short, we can end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Negative theology seeks to find God by cutting away what is not God, similar to the way that the sculptor chips away the stone that is not the figure he wants to create.  It looks at effects more than causes, signifieds more than signs. Unfortunately, our natural human enthusiasm often leads us to chip so much away that we are left with nothing. And so, the ultimate consequence of negative theology is nihilism. Where there is no affirmation, all we have is negation: an endless chain of Derridean signifiers that end up signifying nothing. Where there is no affirmation, all we are doing is setting off on a journey that ends up merely away from here, a journey that ends up everywhere or nowhere. If everything is in flux, nothing is solid, and no knowledge of truth is possible.

Caputo calls deconstruction – this movement away from here – 'radical hermeneutics', or the 'hermeneutics of the kingdom of God'. But I side with Paul Ricoeur's (1913-2005) notion that it is really the 'hermeneutics of suspicion'. It can so easily become the suspicion that the God who is ridding us of God is not the God who should be doing so, but another construct that we have invented. 

My prayer, then, is something else: it is that God may rid me of me or "I". The destruction of the ego or the denial of self is what allows us to both negate and affirm, to cut away the rubbish in order to affirm truth. Having God help us to destroy our selves is a surefire way to destroy the false notions we have of God. For those who lose themselves will end up finding themselves; those who lose their lives will save it. 

May God rid me of me.

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