You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
If you think, as I obviously do, that we have more than enough Sanford-style religion in America, then the way he used the megaphone afforded by victory to do a little creative scriptural interpretation illustrates the problem with just bracketing a politician’s private life and saying “vote the party, not the man.” When that private life is already woven into the public narrative, a vote for the man is often a vote to ratify that narrative, and to lend one’s support not only to particular policies, but to a larger view of human behavior and affairs — encompassing, in this case, a theologically bankrupt and socially destructive understanding of what real redemption actually involves.
Yes, politicians are neither angels nor philosophers, and sometimes the political stakes are high enough to warrant voting for a man with Sanford’s baggage and beliefs. There’s no absolute rule for these things; they have to be navigated case by case. But a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party. Unfortunately the voters of South Carolina disagreed.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.
It is only in the revelation which God makes of himself on the basis of his Word that we learn to understand and to say after him that the God-Man can surrender himself to God-abandonment, without resigning his own reality as God, because, as God, he is as interior to the world he has made as he is superior to it.
They need not be only grief, only pain, these black holes in our lives. If we can learn to live not merely with them but by means of them, if we can let them be part of the works of sacred art that we in fact are, then these apparent weaknesses can be the very things that strengthen us. Life tears us apart, but through those wounds, if we have tended them, love may enter us. It may be the love of someone you have lost. It may be the love of your own spirit for the self that at times you think you hate. However it comes though, in all these, of all these and yet more than they, so much more, there burns the abiding love of God.
Part of the mystery of grace is the way it operates not only as present joy and future hope, but also retroactively, in a way: the past is suffused with a presence that, at the time, you could only feel as the most implacable absence. This is why being saved (I dislike the language, too, not because it’s inaccurate but because it’s corrupted by contemporary usage, a hands-in-the-air, holy-seizure sort of rapture, a definitive sense of rift) involves embracing rather than renouncing one’s past. It is true that Christ makes a man anew, that there is some ultimate change in him. But part of that change is the ability to see life as a whole, to feel the form and unity of it, to become a creature made for and assimilated to existence, rather than a desperate, fragmented thing striving against existence or caught forever just outside it.
You can’t really know a religion from the outside, and you can’t simply “re-create” it to your liking. That is to say, you can known everything about a religion - its history, iconography, scripture, etc. - but all of that will remain intellectual, mere information, so long as your own soul is not at risk. To have faith in a religion, any religion, is to accept at some primary level that its particular language of words and symbols say something true about reality.
The purpose of theology - the purpose of any thinking about God - is to make the silences clearer and starker to us, to make the unmeaning - by which I mean those aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings - more irreducible and more terrible, and thus ultimately more wonderful. This is why art is so often better at theology than theology is.
If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self.
Modern spiritual consciousness is predicated upon the fact that God is gone, and spiritual experience, for many of us, amounts mostly to an essential, deeply felt and necessary, but ultimately inchoate and transitory feeling of oneness or unity with existence. It is mystical and valuable, but distant. Christ, though, is a shard of glass in your gut. Christ is God crying I am here, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.