Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hope in an absurd world

It’s easy enough to form an opinion on something. Think of any topic in the news at the moment…for us in Australia it could be the budget, asylum seekers, Christian activism. Thought of it? Right. You have an opinion on it. It might not be refined, but no doubt you lean towards one side or other of the various debates.

How was that opinion shaped? Who influenced you? Most likely an expert of some kind, whether it was an economist, a human rights worker, a theologian…or (a-hem) a commentator. Significantly, your opinion has been informed by someone that you trust.

This idea is what Jensen is getting at in the penultimate chapter of My God, My God. Taking us on a long journey through the highs and lows of expert knowledge, Jensen is demonstrating the ways in which trust (i.e. faith) is pivotal to any form of knowledge, “we need to develop not simply a skill in reasoning but the ability to trust others and be worthy of the trust of others. In this way we can see that, without faith, reason is dead.” (p. 74), including knowledge of God.

Jensen wants to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom, “we often give the expert in one field the right to speak about other fields assuming that success in one thing is the same as getting life generally right.” (p. 75) He demonstrates how knowledge can lead to pride, whereas wisdom begins and ends in the fear of the Lord, which is humility (here citing Proverbs). Critical to this is what Jensen identifies as the ethical concern of knowledge: not knowledge in isolation, but how it has a bearing on all of society.

The final chapter looks at how the Gospel is like comedy, like getting a joke. It works on inversions, the unexpected (p. 83). There is a surprising character to how God has brought about salvation (e.g. p. 88), and Jensen effectively finishes where he began with the surprise of the resurrection; in that the tragedy of the Cross is quashed by the surprising hope (thanks, Tom Wright) of the resurrection.

In fact, the examples of faith in the Bible demonstrate just this idea: “the gospel of the God of Jesus is comic” (p. 83). While life often feels absurd, or tragic, the Gospel inverts it. We wait with hope.

Since the beginning of the year a friend and I have been reading through Genesis. As we discuss each section, we spend a lot of time marvelling at how God achieves his purposes despite difficult circumstances, various people’s attempts to take control of those situations, which usually leads to a comically timed near-miss of disaster. Time and again we see how God achieves his purposes without any need of our intervention. Humour and humility.

In our dark moments we wonder how God will bring his promises about. It’s not that the Bible will give specific answers to life’s problems, but that it offers substantial hope in an absurd world (p. 79). Reading the Bible, including the Old Testament, is a reminder that God achieves his purposes, his promises are secure. That is, the Bible is “a revelation of the one in whom all answers lie.” (p. 79).

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