Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Excruciating Life

"[The Revelation of John's] theology of the cross cannot sustain a utopian political vision," Loren L. Johns, The Lamb Christology.

I've always wondered why I'm drawn to dystopian literature.  And, until recently, it never occurred to me that's why I've always liked the Revelation.  It's dystopian to the core.  The seer's vision is both disturbing and strangely comforting, deconstructive and constructive, violent and peaceful, beautiful and gory.  In other words, John's Revelation is refreshingly honest about the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Lost on outsiders, the slaughtered Lamb is power to those of us who long for a better world.  Indeed, when we cry out to God, "Why are you letting this happen?," such lamentation proves that we are believers.  For Jesus himself offered the excruciating cry, "My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?"

Excruciating, from the latin crux, the word for "cross."  Excruciating pain and sorrow bear witness to life experience "from the cross," i.e., excruciating.  This is not some sadistic ploy--pain for the sake of painful pleasure.  This is no martyr complex--a pious staging for the faithful.  No, the cross is the eternal witness that things are not the way they are supposed to be, while at the same time--ironically--it is the very answer to how things are supposed to be.  The cross proves what's wrong and right with the world all at the same time.  And, only when one sees the world from the cross of Jesus Christ--an excruciating life--will we be able to set aside any foolish notion of utopia.  In fact, I'm beginning to think the very idea of "utopia" is the devil's lie:  bow down to me and I will give you everything you want.

No thank you.  I'll take the dystopia of a crucified world, for therein lies my only honest hope.


David C Brown said...

Paul says, 'the world is crucified to me, and I to the world', Galatians 6: 14.

William Bell said...

I'm don't think a theology of the cross has to banish all utopian thinking. Utopias are only bad when they get a hold of automatic weapons (Graeber). But trying to construct visions of an ideal just society and presenting them as alternatives to what we have now seems like a good idea. I think liberation theologians use the concept of utopia effectively. It seems like one is inching towards ideology if the claim is made that the dystopian conditions of the present are just the way things are and have to be. I agree-there is some really great dystopian literature.

Rodney Reeves said...


How will the vision of Rev. 21-22 come to pass? Not by "inching towards ideology" but in spite of it, I think.

William Bell said...

I'm not sure if there is disagreement between us or not. I am not wishing to affirm that the kingdom of God or the vision of Rev. 21-22 can be brought about by human efforts or means. But I also do not wish to claim the opposite-that our sorry conditions can't be improved and that we can only trade one dystopia for another.

Rodney Reeves said...

When it comes to the gospel, I'm too apocalyptic to make room for utopia. The good news is a revelatory power that must subvert the world. And, the only way the world will be defeated is through the resurrection power of the cross of Jesus Christ. The end will come when God says "it is finished." I gave up on a utopian world long ago (partly because it's too often wed to the ideology of liberal democracy).