on one hand, i love the mystics. on the other, i really enjoy the serious academics. and then in my spare time, i can’t get enough critical theory. this book — the most well researched, theological text not-intended for an academic audience i’ve ever read — brings these things all together. it is brilliant and really well written, and it’s caused me to stay up way past my-bed time. on top of all that, the guy’s a high school teacher. my kinda armchair theologian. below is an excerpt about the otherness of god. enjoy.
The stranger is a character who stands at the boundary of our knowledge. They are known to us because we have dominated them — even by giving them the name ‘stranger’ we have seen them and admitted their existence. But they are also unknown to us, or they would be called friend, or at least given a proper name. Our relationship to this God who is both separate and bound, transcendent and immanent can be seen as a relationship with a stranger.
The sociologist Georg Simmel has reflected a great deal on what these un/known strangers might mean to us, and concluded that they play an important role in the development of societies. When they enter our world it is strangers who have to go through the painful process of adapting to our ways of life. In this way the stranger ‘holds up a mirror to the society in which he or she enters, since [they] cannot take for granted ways of life that seem to natives just natural.’ The incarnation is God coming as stranger and holding up a mirror to our society. But, more than this, reading Zizek and SImmel together, Jesus’ growth as a man who is finally forsaken — called ‘stranger’ — by God shows us Jesus holding up a mirror to Godself too. To God, Jesus became a strange man, but it was through this stranger that God learned about God.
The fact of Jesus’ status as fully human and fully divine has traditionally been interpreted as a bridge between divinity and humanity: Jesus’ divine side holds onto God, and human side holds on to us. But the idea of Jesus as the divine stranger suggests that the empathetic relationship may be equally powerful the other way round. The important thig for God was that Jesus was fully human — and thus gave God a strange mirror in which God could be revealed to Godself; the important thing for us was that Jesus was fully divine – for in this stranger, trying to adapt to the ways of our world, we see a truer picture of what we have become.
The stranger — the person who stands on the boundary of our community — is un/known. Because of the paradox of their nearness and otherness, the stranger is thus the one who teaches, the one from whom we learn best. Jesus was this perfect stranger. His temptations in the desert drew him towards performing stunts that would emphasise his otherness and miracles of abundant provision that would emphasise his binding. But, walking out of the desert to live among ust, this stranger refused to collapse the paradox of separation and binding — to and from both us and God. In his death he experienced the agony of total separation; in his resurrection, the joy of full communion. In his temptations and pain he felt total empathetic binding with our humanity; in prayer and transfiguration, total separation; in his resurrection, the joy of full communion. In his temptations and pain he felt total empathetic binding with our humanity; in prayer and transfiguration, total separation from us. Now we, as CHristians, need to seek to live by this same divine pattern: we are those who are both bound to and separated from God, and bound to and separated from humanity. Christianity then is not a religion of exclusivity, of a predestined group who are chosen for salvation. Instead it is the set of those who know/embrace this paradox of being strangers. We are the boundary, not the centre; we are the other, not the included, and it is out of this realisation that our empathy for the oppressed and marginalised springs.