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Waiting in Joyful Hope

Kenosis and the knowledge of God

Jurgen Moltmann's major work is his "theology of hope", which in many ways re-launched the study of this key theological virtue. One key aspect of Moltmann's thought is the idea that God is not "aloof" from time. He focusses on Jesus' suffering on the cross: if God is "passionless", and Jesus is God, and Jesus suffered, isn't that a contradiction in terms? In Jesus, God has definitely entered into time and has experienced time.

Moltmann also focusses on the notion that God is Love. He argues that we often understand this with regards to God-in-himself (the immanent Trinity), but forget that it also applies to God-for-others (the economic Trinity); instead, we tend to say "God is loving" in regards to the latter element. But Moltmann argues that in doing so we overlook the reciprocal nature of love, i.e. that when we love someone we hope that s/he will love us back. Limiting ourselves to the statement "God is loving" risks turning our perception of God into that of a giant celestial vending machine. But to say "God is Love", even in regards to his creation, actually implies that God (1) desires for us to have free will, for our love to be genuine, and (2) opens himself up to the possibility of "being hurt" by our refusal to love. Creation is actually an act of kenosis, or "self-emptying".

Which got me thinking about a debate that took place on this blog a long, long time ago. One of the first theological controversies I ever stirred up was a discussion of whether or not God knows actual future events. The argument being made at the time was that God could not know actual future events because there is no such thing as an actual future event, i.e. it was a philosophical argument, implying that such knowledge was impossible for God. This generated a lot of controversy and criticism, in particular because it seemed to detract from the idea of God's omnipotence and omniscience. It seemed to introduce a defect in God. (The discussion was a lot of fun, I might add. OK, so I have an odd sense of fun.)

But what if the argument were phrased differently? Suppose one were to argue that God *could* know actual future events, but *chooses not to* as a part of the movement of kenosis? The general problem of free will vs. predestination disappears, there is no "defect" in God, and the prophetic dimension of Scripture (regarding actual future events) can be maintained.

Repentence and the laughter of God

In the gospel passage that is read every year for Ash Wednesday, Jesus warns his listeners not to pray or fast or give alms in such a way that others see it. Obviously, this is (in part) because we should avoid doing a penitential action for some sort of reward, or else it isn't really a penance. But I think there is also a deeper sense to what Jesus is saying. For me, penance is not just about doing something or giving something up: it is a call to live in integrity.

To live in integrity means to live in reality. Jesus is warning his listeners to not simply put on their "penance masks" when the pray, fast, and give alms, but for this outward attitude to be a true reflection of a genuine interior disposition. So it means being real with ourselves, first and foremost.

But penance, in my opinion, also means being real (or, if you prefer, "realistic") about the world around us. And this is where Jesus' call to joy-in-penance comes. He tells his disciples, "do not put on a gloomy face". In other words, if we are doing penance properly, the only way to have a gloomy face is to choose to put one on! Real penance, done properly, actually brings joy, thanks to the fact that penance (for it to be real penance) requires us to acknowledge the total truth about ourselves — including the truth that we are sinners! And the acknowledgement of this total truth is the open door to joy.

You may be wondering what I am talking about, and to be honest it is still something I am exploring myself. I can only share one insight to try and explain myself. As I visit patients in the hospital, I have observed something among those who suffer from mental illness: those who are delusional or on the edge of delusions (e.g. schizophenics) almost never laugh. Actually, I have never heard one such person laugh, ever. I've come to realise that it is because laughter is a reaction to the presence of the absurd. Those who suffer from delusions are in some ways disconnected from reality, so they cannot actually recognize the absurd — and so, they never laugh.

Well, we can be pretty absurd sometimes, and the most absurd thing we can do is sin. In my view of things, I expect that the Devil is a very serious individual all the time, while God is very mirthful. Oh yes, God is sorry when he sees us sin, just as we should be sorry for our sins, but at the same time we know we are becoming more and more realistic with ourselves when we can acknowledge how silly and stupid our sins really are.

And it helps us understand why God is so ready to forgive us. Parents, how many times have you seen your kids to something wrong, and you got upset at the time, but later when you thought about it something about the situation was actually pretty funny? Well, we are God's beloved children. Yes, we are constantly getting into trouble and needing correction, but behind the Lord's disapproval of sin is the little smile of his joy — a little smile that turns into a broad gesture of love whenever we turn back to him.