There is little chance the world will see in us ever again the glory of a God who could transform people to transform the world. For, see? The world has already been transformed. “Love” and “freedom” are constant twitters, warped and misshapen echoes of a long dead Jesus. And, see? In those echoes the world is transforming still, and they who might transform it back again can only be seen as holding onto an outdated tyranny. Who will show the watching world that there is faithfulness? Who will prove to a jaded generation that love is possible? Who if not we who act out our little christs will say again that Christ has come and the faithfulness of self-sacrificial love is reality?
What god would ask for blood? We wonder rightly at so grotesque a scene, as priests huddle over the congealing mess, as if the gods must hear us because of the stench. Do gods really thirst for so sickening a drink? Or is the blood only a symbol for what I am called to give away: life? For one god calls me to obey and another to submit. But the call is pointless. Even if I could give my life to God for a minute, I could not do it for an hour. Could I last an hour, I doubt I could submit for a day. Or even if I was asked only for a second, I could not give my life to God wholly even for that moment. So I say, “Here is blood, the symbol of a life flowing out, given wholly, finally, utterly. Take it as if it were mine, for, see? My blood runs too slowly.”
One can argue – perhaps with theologians like Origen – that there is some hope that all people will find salvation. Perhaps, with Knitter, one can argue that the love of God is such that it cannot be finally and ultimately frustrated, and that eventually every soul will come to see light and respond to the invitation of grace. Perhaps, with Hick, one can conclude that the infinite power of God cannot finally be denied, and that to believe in anything like “hell,” as if it were a place of literally endless torment, is to deny omnipotence and the constancy of divine compassion. Insofar as God’s power is unlimited and God’s love is eternal, there is no end to the call of grace to all souls, and therefore “hell,” however full of recalcitrant souls it may be, must eventually be empty. I’m not sure this is true, but let us suppose it is. Let us suppose it is true. True. Then pluralism is false. Note the theological assertions of power and love; note the assumptions of divine personhood and implications of eternal identity in salvation. These must be taken as truths for the universalist argument to make sense, and yet they contradict other religious views of Ultimate Being and human nature. Thus this hopeful universalism necessarily makes theological statements and anthropological claims that are ultimately (perhaps) very Christian but, by the same token, not Buddhist or Vedantist. The result of this for simple logic is that when Knitter says, “The truth of Jesus’ way is open to the truth of other ways,” he’s just wrong. Rather this Christian truth is the truth that continually offers itself even to the most wayward and misguided.
For the frustrated soul in a broken world, freedom is more temptation than promise, especially considered as two apparently opposite options. First is the Confucian Gentleman, who lives the freedom of the mature and moral man. He is described in Confucius’ famous “autobiography” that culminates in the assertion that, at 70 years old, he can follow every desire of his heart and never veer from the path of morality. This is the moral marvel of those positive souls that think they can become virtuous. This is the temptation of the proud and self-assured. It is, perhaps at its most realistic, the temptation of those whose moral standards are low enough to be met. The opposite option is the Nietzschean Overman. Here morality is abandoned, not for wild self-indulgence, but because it is seen to be empty, meaningless, the self-delusion of those finite souls that think a few hundred years of human “progress” is evidence of our perfectibility. But the Overman sees in all morality the self-conflict of the soul, the division of the individual. And so, when God dies and morality fades away like the echoes of His death rattle, the Overman discovers himself free. Thus is the Overman like the Gentleman, free of moral concern, free of moral duty, free to act in any manner he pleases. This is the tmeptation of the despairing. And as the Confucian Gentleman is more likely in our world to be the self-confidence of those those moral standards are low enough to be met, so is the Nietzschean Overman more likely to be the adolescent indulgence of those who hide moral virtues in the darker corners of their dishonest hearts.
How strange that people seek the god they want and dare to call it “truth.” “At least,” they will say, “it is the truth for me.” Perhaps, as Schaeffer suggests, we have Kierkegaard to blame for this; but I suspect that the roots of this loss go much deeper and extend into the Trinitarian bedrock of our natures. For it is strange, but no longer uncommon, that we hear of what is “true for me” and that each of us has “his own reality.” And prior to this loss of the objectivity of the True, we had already abandoned objectivity in the realm of the Good, inasmuch as we became “open minded,” “non-judgmental,” and “culturally sensitive” in our acceptance of the relativity of morality. And it seems that even farther back, we gave up aesthetic objectivity without a fight, without even a sigh, allowing that Beauty is nothing at all, unless it is “in the eye of the beholder.” But, once again, if I could give the “seeker” the glory of his own search, it would include the great hope that there is Truth, superbly worth seeking precisely because it is not “true for me.” And at the same time, I would urge the seeker to strive for Goodness, again precisely because it is the value of our wills beyond the paltry creations of cultural normality and individual whim. And I might even urge the wondering heart to long for Beauty that is beautiful whether I see it or not, whether I hear it or not, whether I feel it or not.
Seeker of what? The lover of one’s own fulfillment seeks a god of his own invention, the god of his own interests. Here, again, is the idolatrous humility of those for whom “Truth is too great.” But if I could, I would give the idolater such a glory in himself that he would want something even more glorious. “Do you not see,” we might urge, “how wonderful it is to desire knowledge? How glorious it is to know the makeup of distant galaxies or the chemical composition of chlorophyll. Describe chemical bonding, solve a math problem, and your mind moves the universe.” Then the voice drops to a whisper and we say, “Then consider that you are equally, or even more so, called to know God.” We smile vaguely, slightly hopeful. But the seeker, almost offended, replies,”Oh, no! I would never be so arrogant! I shall be humbly satisfied with the god that I have invented.” And so is the seeker no seeker at all.
See the “Gods of Love” poem.
Suppose that we have failed to love ourselves sufficiently. Suppose that in place of the absurd humility of those who deny the value of truth we were to declare to the outraged world that we, even we, can know truth. Indeed, let us audaciously insist that we are called to it, made for it, and that it lingers just beyond our fingertips not as a tease or pretense, but as a promise. This soul, this mind, this bold and clumsy thinker is bound there, driven there, invited, lured, summoned. Embrace the arrogance of the knower of truth, though yet as one not quite there, and what to we find? That we, in our arrogance, discover that which is greater than ourselves. For great as we are, as knowers of truth, still the Truth itself is greater. And so our arrogance leads us to worship Him. This is the hope of our arrogance, so different from the unchallengeable egoism of post-modern humility.
The post-modern child has learned that all truth is opinion and that everyone has some mysterious “right” to that opinion. Having seen that culture determines thought and that cultures vary, we conclude that thought, too, varies, and therefore that no one person’s thought has any more right to the claim of truth than another. So we become tolerant of difference, open-minded in the odd sense that we would never dream of thinking our beliefs are true. Yet the ironic implication is that the post-modern child need never be concerned about whether he could be wrong, and his open-mindedness need never actually be open to the need to be corrected or instructed. Thus the humility of post-modern thought brings us to the unmitigated egoism of those no longer capable of self-doubt.
This great mystery! Yet it is only the idea of Trinity that puts relationality at the center of reality. Thus it is also the idea of Trinity that finds a non-arbitrary basis in the nature of God for a morality of love. Thus it is the idea of Trinity that answers the Euthyphro objection. Almost as a by-product, it explains to us our own “trinitarian” ideals (beauty, truth and goodness) and hints at our own “trinitarian” selfhood (mind, consciousness and will). Barely noticed — and barely needed — it even explains to the lingering Hermetic Hegelian why God did not, in fact, need to create, but did so purely and wholly as an act of love.
How softly the dreamer breathes almost peacefully in her sleep! See the vague motion of a smile upon her lips. And yet it is only sleep. And it seems — strange to say — an act of love to awaken the dreamer to a real world, a world with sorrow and war. Is it enough to justify the waking that we say, “But this, my love, is real?” If so, then it seems beauty must be sacrificed to truth.
Perhaps, however, the purpose of truth is to lead us back to beauty, as if those who awaken discover that smiles and love are real as war and sorrow, indeed that love is sorrow’s precondition. So let us not say beauty is sacrificed; let us say beauty hides and truth needs to be poured into our condition for our redeeming. Thus says Truth: “No one comes to Beauty but by me.”