Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Earlier I  wrote about Tomas Halik’s chapter on “little faith” from Night of the Confessor, but what Halik leaves out of his discussion of faith like a mustard seed, purposefully, is the whole of the verse from Luke 17:6, which he takes up in chapter 3. The verse reads as follows:

“The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.”

Halik asks us where this “impossibly absurd” promise leaves us (24) and how we are to put it into action. He says, “this is a case where even the most obdurate fundamentalist would hardly take Jesus literally and seek to command mountains or trees to move through the power of their will” (25), but where does that leave us with the passage?  He rejects two other possible readings of this passage: one, that we should ask for and expect the equivalent of spiritual “superpowers” or becoming miracle workers that might simply play into our “covert narcissism, megalomania, Messiah complex” (25), etc.; two, that we reject the equivalence of faith with “autosuggestion,” and wind up replacing faith in Christ with “self-affirmation, self-assertiveness, and the ‘extension of one’s potential’” (26). He aligns this second reading with a sort of American religion in which God is redefined to mean “our future selves” (26). Halik refuses to associate this radical faith Jesus requests with exceptional deeds, power, or gifts.

Instead, Halik associates this radical expression of faith – “truly absurd and impossible” (26) – with foolish and crazy behavior, such as “forgiving when I could take vengeance, and even ‘loving my neighbor,’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ when I have been done wrong to…” (26). This absurd faith is in fact living out a life of love in the midst of a world that desires power, vengeance, and “what’s mine.” As Halik says, are not these acts of love crazier and more absurd in the world than moving a mountain to the left or right?

If we have never had the feeling that what Jesus wants of us is absurd, crazy, impossible, then we’ve probably either been too hasty in taming or diluting the radical nature of his teaching by soothing intellectualizing interpretations, or (mostly naively, illusorily, or even hypocritically) we have too easily forgotten just to what extent – in our thinking, customs, and actions – we are rooted “in this world” where totally different rules apply (27).
Part of the reason for us being rooted “in this world” is the fact, says Halik, that “God was made homeless” (27), neither belonging in the material world (objective world), or simply in the world of our thoughts and feelings (subjective world). God’s place is “the kingdom of the impossible” or the “kingdom of absurdity” (27), where shepherds go to look for one lost sheep out of one hundred, and if you want to lead, you must become a servant, and if you want to be great, you have to be small, and where the blind see and the people who clim to have sight are blind (27-28). Halik asks whether this is any basis “for some system, logic, or morality, for some rational, healthy and successful lifestyle” (28)? It is not. It is not possible. It is a “path of paradox,” but then “for mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The impossible path is not about moving mountains or mulberry bushes, but taking the impossible path of “forgiveness, nonviolence, and generous unselfish love” (28). When one takes this path, “it generally brings the opposite of success” (28), in which hard men and women who care for their own interests, who push the weak aside, who do not pay attention to children succeed and prosper. This “kingdom of the impossible” asks us to act against not just our own interests in some way, but our own experience, our own knowledge of how the world works and functions. It asks us not to despair, nor to join in, nor to drug ourselves out of reality, but to

persevere on the path of unselfishness, nonviolence, and generous love, even if it means defying the world’s logic, power, and usual style (29).
This is absurd and impossible. It also creates a genuine fear which can only be cured by faith.

It is a world of impossibility where God dwells and we sustain ourselves in it because we believe in spite of the trauma and evil we have experienced, in spite of death which haunts all of us; we have faith and we have hope, “which transcend the horizon of the possible” (30). It is not that we do not have in our lives good reasons for cynicism, despair, anger, and depression, it is just that faith and hope are contained, says Halik, in “that colossal force that refuses to give up and says ‘nonetheless’ and ‘once more’” (31).

Halik also notes that “this world” has its own share of absurdity, in its pits of violence, cruelty, oppression, and meaninglessness (31-32). Do these offer hope, love and faith? As people, we know that we are made for more than “accepting evil and hopelessness” (32), but the world does not offer us a way out of evil or despair. It is only through faith, hope and love, “the kingdom of the impossible,” can we “transcend the barrier of the absurdity of our world and of everything “in it,” including death” (32). When we are done with the possible, Halik says, the “kingdom of the impossible” offers us a path to true living, even in the midst of the absurdity of it all.

Halik, then, in this, chapter 3, offers a radical reading of Jesus, in that he refuses to reduce his words to fundamentalism, desire for power, or yearning for self-expression; instead, he locates the radical Jesus in a life lived faithfully with courage in “the path of unselfishness, nonviolence, and generous love, even if it means defying the world’s logic, power, and usual style” (29). It is impossible, except that we yearn for this “kingdom of the impossible” (Matthew 19:26) and have been given a path to follow which leads us there.

John W. Martens

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