Reality and reality

Came across an interesting article the other day. In What Sense a Saviour? The nature and function of Jesus in Radical Theology by Trevor Greenfield.* It was the question itself rather than the radical theology bit that interested me. It was also interesting how quickly and easily Greenfield accepted the premises of radical theology and dismissed the supernatural. OK, we no longer accept the three-decker universe of early and medieval Christians. We are now used to thinking in more than three, or even four, dimensions, but Greenfield dismisses the idea of the supernatural as another, or even fundamental, dimension.

An attempt can be made to circumvent the problem of the seemingly ever-increasing distance between man and God by another simple replacement, namely, ‘out there’ can become ‘beyond there’, taking God and heaven out of the universe altogether whilst still allowing the basic original concept to remain intact. At first glance this would seem to solve the problem once and for all as heaven is moved to another dimension, a realm that science and cosmology can never penetrate. But this time, however, it doesn’t work as well as earlier changes because, as Robinson observes, the paradigm shift resulting from our changing cosmological understanding has brought with it fundamental changes to religious language. Whilst, for centuries goodness and profundity were expressed in terms of height and elevation, now man thinks of profundity in terms of the depth of experience. Man has no desire for a heaven above the clouds or above the universe. He now searches innermost, not outermost, for truth and understanding.

I don’t see a problem here. The needs of many people are still met by an ‘up there’, or ‘in Heaven’ metaphor and a fairly literal understanding of the New Testament and the creeds is not an obstacle to faith, prayer, or a sense of meaning. For others the ‘out there’, or another dimension will suffice. Ultimately no metaphors, symbols or language can deal with the Transcendent and anyone with a basic understanding of the New Testament should realise this, at least implicitly. The problem lies not with philosophy but with psychology. How does one make the transition from a faith based on symbols and metaphors, a faith that can be articulated and explained, to an apophatic faith where all is silence and darkness? Greenfieldacknowledges this, that it is not so much a theological problem as an existential one. It follows that it is in the existential moment, in the ‘now’, this moment that I am living through, that I must look for answers, for meaning. The Protestant tradition seems to have a problem with an immanent God, but the fact that the idea of a transcendent God no longer satisfies the quest for meaning, as Greenfield would have it, does not mean that all is lost. Ultimately each person must stand alone in this now and look within himself, look into the depths that fall and fall into the darkness. To do so is counter intuitive . It is the last thing you want to do. Shaken by a sort of existential vertigo you want to turn away, run away to somewhere bright and solid and secure. To do so is to turn from Reality back to reality, back to the familiar, warm, comfortable reality we have always known, which promises everything but sooner or later ends in suffering and death. And so, for some, it is the last thing they will do. At the point of death there is no turning away. Far better, then, to prepare for this existential possibility earlier rather than later, when you have all your faculties and are not debilitated by illness and pain.


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