Posted by: gcarkner | November 28, 2013

Advent Investigations Reframed

Advent Investigations Reframed

Advent speaks of God’s coming to be with us, a presence to fill the void of absence. Our world is so often typified by will-to-power, nihilism, with wandering souls, broken dreams and fragmented lives. But there is no greater claim among all the religions and philosophies of the world than this: God took on a human body and spent time with us, dwelt among us. It entails his most dramatic revelation, his greatest speech-act.  Angelic hosts burst into glorious song to announce the event. O Holy Night!

Just at the right time, high time (kairos), he comes to dwell in incarnate flesh: pulsating corpuscles, arms and legs running to greet us, face filled with compassion, hands breaking bread to feed the masses. Here lies the grand invitation to counter nihilism, search into the deeper things of life, reach higher for a transcendent encounter, to ponder the big questions of meaning, purpose and identity. We must put our best philosophers and scholars, poets and scientists to work on this investigation. What’s this that is happening to us, to our world? What’s the meaning of this virgin birth, this epiphany of grace, this gift, this cosmic event, this explosion of the human and divine imagination? Advent is that and more.

Incarnation Mystery: We have touched him with our hands, rubbed shoulders, felt his robust embrace, dined together, listened to his wisdom, felt his care. Mary sings, “Things hidden for centuries have become so clear. Insight and justice have set up a new epistemology, a new way of knowing and being, a new world where love rules. Infinite meets finite good and ushers in peace; a new future is born. Our people have longed for this for centuries in our wildest dreams and deepest depths. Once we could only hope for such things. Now they are tangible and real.” How do we discern such grand experience?

Cognitive Barrier: The proud and cynical skeptics, who want to treat such evidence for God like a laboratory investigation, cannot see the light in Advent, cannot discern the import of the storyline, cannot understand why scholars would travel the globe to investigate the signs. Handicapped by moral blockage, our cynics cannot receive divine love; they are deaf to the announcement of joy unspeakable; there is no feeling of wonder at the Advent Miracle. “Show me the hard data; bring us fire from heaven. Show us the cognitive bullet that explains, the hermeneutical key to unlock the episode. Adults must face the harsh reality of meaninglessness.” Instead, they find only fantasy, obscurity and confusion; they walk away from incarnate signs without knowing the profound significance of their loss. Time to read another book from the New Atheists to bury our guilt and refuse the mystery of a special newborn that may be the hinge of history. They settle for absence. Are we late moderns looking for God in all the wrong places and then carelessly claiming he doesn’t exist and is irrelevant to our human dreams? Do we have the wrong methodology, a dysfunctional hermeneutic?

Cognitive Hope: As a counterpoint to this skeptic’s dilemma, Loyola philosopher Paul K. Moser reframes the approach: “Are we humans in a position on our own to answer the question of whether God exists, without our being morally challenged by God?” This draws on the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition: God hides from the proud and reveals himself to the humble and teachable, those with the open heart and the imagination of a young child. Revelation involves encounter: divine cognitive grace engaging stony hearts. What kind of person will discover God, feel divine presence and experience holy communion, hear the angels announcing the birth and recognize what it means?  What kind of approach will improve our sight and hearing? To seek out God is morally loaded and humanly humbling. Courage, humility and perseverance is required.

Evidence for God is no spectator sport where we treat him as a laboratory experiment; rather, it requires the seeker to submit to someone as authoritative Lord, and to undergo examination. The pure in heart and the righteous will see God. Ah, there’s the rub: No magic cognitive bullet to answer all questions or provide the right hermeneutical key. Our wise philosopher Dr. Moser informs us that we need kardiatheology the right motivation of the heart to deal properly with the hidden God, who is shy and hides from our arrogant attitudes, our attempts to control the ultimate experiment. We desperately need healing from our cynicism in order to see and perceive, to engage fruitfully a holy and loving God. These investigations after all are not just about the first cause or the evidence of a designer in a fine-tuned universe. We will need to seek him on his terms, to attend to his approach. The Divine Fox sets the parameters for discovery and the rules of engagement.

Indeed, what if the fundamentals are not cosmos, nebulae and galaxies, matter and energy, time, space and motion, protons and electrons, but rather love, joy, peace and goodness, I-Thou relationship, purity of inner self. How do we filter the cosmic noise, the cacophony of human skepticism, and hear his voice calling to us? Come everyone who is tired and stressed, hungry and exhausted and I will give you rest, peace, and healing. Handel’s Messiah captures the grand theme, the deep hope, the phenomenal drama of the divine-human story.

 God will show up when atheists stop their cynical rant and attend more carefully to his initiatives. The investigation is recalibrated. His agape love is directed at the human conscience is an invitational call to existential depth; we experience disclosure in the midst of transformation. Grace works like this. Agape offers an enlightening love that shines divine light on our inner depths and motivations. This methodology will help us recognize him as King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace, God of gods, Immanuel.

 Moser captures the essential life-or-death question: “Are we sincerely attending to the divine call via conscience and experienced agape in a way that leads us before the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus where we can become part of his new creation?” This is an investigation worthy of several PhDs. How do we respond to this incarnational gift, this intersection with the divine, of heaven come to earth? Will we agree to his conditions in this preeminent investigation, and approach like a child in openness to epiphany? God will speak if we listen and respond; he will come; he will invite us into trinitarian communion, to learn more than our imaginations could ever fathom.

 ~Gord Carkner, Advent Season 2013

See also The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity by Dr. Gordon E. Carkner for a fuller treatment of this topic.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, bliss. (Yale, 2013)

Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.

The Magi
William Butler Yeats (from Responsibilities and Other Poems, 1916)
clr gif

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

 Screen shot 2013-11-27 at 3.04.29 PM

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