Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 51, “God’s Humility”

Dear friend,

This notion that we have swallowed whole like a 12-inch everything pizza, and without indigestion—the notion that all religions are the same and that therefore we Christians should not single out ours as special, because you know, I mean, it might offend someone—is patently false. It’s as though we were all staring at a field full of Guernsey cows with one white Brahma bull standing square in the middle and saying, Yup, it’s all beef to me.

Sorry for the extended food metaphorization, but when your writer’s named Bull you’re going to have to take some BS with the straight shooting.

“God’s Humility,” the title of this chapter from Romano Guardini’s book on the New Testament, The Lord, is a seeming oxymoron. God humble? I don’t think so. Omniscient—omnipotent—humble? Doesn’t follow.

Yet as we walk with Jesus into Jerusalem and toward Calvary on the last week of his earthly, unrisen life, it is a bit like following a man down death row who sees his life flash before him, who now, at the end, knows WHO HE IS. Jesus knew who he was, though only near the end did he come right out and say it, “The Messiah you’ve been waiting for? It’s me.”

It’s us who suddenly see him in a new light. It’s us, reading the accounts two thousand years later, who are struck by his . . . humility? Yes. God goes to his death at our hands, and willingly. Compare that with Greece’s gods, or any others in the ancient world.

“To understand antiquity’s idea of man,” Guardini writes, “we must examine its gods and heroes, myths and legends. In these we find the classical prototype of genuine man. Assuredly, side by side with the proud and the noble, we find the most repulsive crime, downfall and annihilation; nevertheless, all characters and events have one trait in common: the will to greatness, wealth, power and fame. This is the measure applied to all things, even to sacrilege and death. Anything opposed to it falls short of the authentically human.

“What a world of difference between this conception and that to which Christ has led us! Here grandeur of existence, human splendor are no longer measuring-rod. Much in the life of Christ is totally outside the pale of accepted antique values. The [Jewish] race from which Jesus springs is one of vanished glory; but he does not dream of reviving it. With him it is no question of the will to power, or fame as a philosopher, or the poet’s glory. Jesus is poor. Not as Socrates is poor, with a philosophical flavor to his poverty, but literally poor. . . . ”

Jesus is poor. And the destiny of this poor man—“how disturbingly terrible it is!” What sense do we make of all this? Do we say, with Joseph Campbell, that one hero is as good as another? Do we say, with today’s PC police, that there is no difference between Christianity and other religions? Or do we stop to ask, Poor? Humble? What’s that about?

Guardini stops to ask: “How can one see without revolt the proclaimer of divine wisdom being spat upon, or watch the soldiers play their gruesome pranks, or witness a death intended to annihilate not only the body of the Lord, but also his honor and the mission for which he came. . . . How strange it all is! . . . How great the transformation of our conception of man through Christianity, is something we are again beginning to appreciate, now that its validity is no longer generally accepted. Perhaps the moment is not distant in which the Christian ideal, like that of antiquity during the Renaissance, will overwhelm the modern consciousness with its unspeakable plenitude.”

Guardini goes on to clarify the nature of God’s “humility,” and it’s a discussion worth looking at closely. But I want to end this not-so-short post by stopping at the last point: that perhaps the Christian ideal—so diminished, sometimes so “spat upon” by the “enlightened ones” of our current cultural moment—may only be waiting for its next moment of “plenitude,” when it will once again “overwhelm” human consciousness.

Wishing you a plenitude of faith, hope, and love,

This series of posts on The Lord by Romano Guardini continues here with chapter 52.

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