Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ramblings and Ruminations on John (3)

03.Ramblings and Ruminations in John

John 1:1-5 (cont’d)

This Word is both co-source (identity, v.1) and agent of creation (v.3). John is emphatic about the Word’s agency in creation. It, the Word, is not a “mere” Creator, however. “Life” (another of John’s theological key-words), the animating power of God’s own presence, is imprinted or embedded in the creation by the Word. And this light was to enlighten humanity (v.4).

All is not well within the creation, alas. There is a “darkness” loose within it that is no part of the Word’s creative work. John will finger human disbelief as one source of this darkness in a few verses. Later on, he reveals the devil as another, even more powerful source of darkness. Even with this, however, ambiguity shrouds this darkness. For the devil too is but a created being, under the authority and certainty of defeat by the incarnate Word. The Whence and reality of this darkness remains shrouded in primal shadows.

Whatever the case with that, this darkness does battle with the Light seeking to “comprehend,” or “overcome,” or perhaps even “extinguish” it. The Greek word katalambanō can bear any of these senses. At any rate, the darkness strives to get the upper hand on the Light and somehow thwart its illumination from shining out. That means this non-created darkness is anti-creation, always using its power to defuse, diminish, and defeat the purpose and work of the Light, the Word, God’s agent in creation. This suggests that the integrity of creation, in every aspect, is always at issue in this contest between the darkness and the Light. This entails a concern for the environment and all that enhances or subverts its proper functioning. I suggest that John’s gospel is “proto-green,” an intuition that seems confirmed by John’s resurrection story in ch.20. But we’ll wait till then to spell this out!
John’s verb tenses highlight the Light’s defeat of the darkness. V.5 could be translated, “The Light keeps on shining (present tense) in the darkness, and the darkness was not able to comprehend/overcome/extinguish it (past tense).” The alternation of tenses suggests that darkness has given Light its best shot and that naught came of it. John nuances this summary judgment in the course of his story, but nonetheless, this is the non-negotiable good news of John’s story announced right here at the outset!


Friday, April 11, 2008

Ramblings and Ruminations on John (2)

02.Ramblings and Ruminations on John

John 1:1-5 (cont’d)

“Word” (logos) –is a key word in John’s theological vocabulary as well as the wider religio-philosophical world of the time. It resonances are varied and allowed John to converse with these varied religions, spiritualities, and philosophies. I suggest it continues this function in our world and I believe the best of its translational possibilities for our time is “meaning.” “In the beginning was Meaning.”

Meaning seems to be the primary quest of our postmodern world. Great skepticism attends many of these quests. Some have given it up, embracing or bracing themselves for life without meaning. Most, however, continue to the search and to them John makes his claim that “Meaning” is indeed a reality, a reality writ into the fabric of the world and life in this world. But I get ahead of John here.

This “Meaning” or logos, John asserts, is both intimate with and identical to God. “Meaning” is “face-to-face” with God according to the Greek John uses (pros ton theon). God and “Meaning” are in close relation to each other (see Proverbs 8 on “Wisdom”). God and “Meaning” converse and commune throughout eternity (recall earlier questions raised about this).

Then John takes the daring step of internalizing this conversation and community within the very being of God! “’Meaning’ was God.” “Meaning” is thus a self-expression of who God is.

In our context, then, John affirms the existence of meaning and the legitimacy of the quest for meaning. Later in this prologue to his gospel (1:1-18), John will identify “Meaning” with the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, whose embodiment and reflection of “Meaning” is the decisive and clearest picture of God we have (or will have).

Part of what this means, I think, is that the most direct and provocative claim the Christian faith makes is not about how “god-like” Jesus is (as if we already knew who and what “god” is), but rather about how Jesus-like the Bible’s God is! The word “god” is, of course, the most ambiguous and diversely-used (not to mention dangerous!) word in the world. We must always be clear about which God we mean when we speak with others about God and inquire of them what God they are speaking of when they use the word. “God” is not a univocal word!!

And for us, we spell “God,” JESUS CHRIST!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ramblings and Ruminations on John (1)

01.Ramblings and Ruminations on John

Shallow enough for a babe to bathe in, deep enough for a elephant to swim – this well describes the Gospel of John! Its waters run deep yet never mock our inability to negotiate these depths and remain in the shallows. Wherever we are with God there is something for us in this magnificent story. There is always more for us here; we never exhaust its depths. This is so in part because of the author’s insight and subtlety in telling a multilevel story in a variety of hues and textures that continually invite us to go deeper and deeper.

I don’t know where I am with God as I encounter John again. We are never good judges of these things about ourselves. I only know I feel it beckoning me to swim again in its waters and discover what is there for me to find. These notes are my report on what I find. They take no systematic shape; traverse diverse grounds from points of Greek grammar to reflections on Christian faith and life in our postmodern world. That’s why I’ve entitled these notes “Ramblings and Ruminations.” They are the notes of a way-farer seeking sustenance and direction wherever he may find it.

John 1:1-5

“In the beginning” – radicalizes its Old Testament prototype, Genesis 1:1. John begins with claim that deconstructs the orthodoxy of our postmodern world. “In the beginning” rather than “once upon a time” frames John’s and the Bible’s story as a claim to reality, not simply an “as I see it” story constructed from the thought and experiences of its author.

I don’t mean this as a naïve claim to “historicity.” My point is hermeneutical – regardless of our ultimate evaluation of his work, John thinks he addresses reality in its deepest and profoundest form. A hermeneutics of respect must precede a hermeneutics of suspicion. This claim to reality, I believe, cannot be deconstructed a priori by application of a hermeneutics of suspicion. Rather, if it be deconstructed, that can only come a posteriori, after John has been engaged on his own terms with at least a theoretical openness to his claim’s truth.

John’s use of "arche" (“beginning) radicalizes the same word used in the Greek Old Testament of Genesis 1:1 by pushing it back to the absolute beginning. Yet at the same time, by using the same word is it possible that John means us to understand a degree of continuity between the two “beginnings,” between what we traditionally call eternity and time?

-Perhaps “eternity” is not timeless and there is something analogous to what we call “time” in God’s own being and experience?

-Perhaps understanding God as triune, a community of shared love throughout all “eternity,” allows us to posit a “timefulness” in God that enables this divine relationality to be echoed in our own human experience of relationships?

-Perhaps being made in God’s “image” (Genesis 1:26-28) implies something like this?

More on John 1:1-5 next time. This has been pretty “heavy” stuff, I confess, but that’s because John is at times a “heavy” writer. Give him his due and think with him (and me) about these things.