Friday, 19 June 2015

Sacrifice at the altar of Love


“For God so loved the world, that he gave …” (John 3:16) in this familiar verse we come across two imperatives loved and gave. These two actions then of loving and giving become essentially tied to Christian understanding of incarnation and crucifixion. These two are so deeply intermingled that separation of either one would simply render the whole aspect of Christian redemptive story void.

Now to a more serious question of how God actually “Loved”? Or what role does Love play in God in giving himself. Primarily this Love can be understand through kenosis as a self-emptying or self-giving of God. Moreover a serious reflection on the nature of Love in the act of God is warranted. In order to understand this we could turn to Ludwig Feuerbach a fierce critique of Christianity. Who in his famous book Essence of Christianity, brings out his all familiar thesis that God is just a projection of human psyche. Given the atheistic route of Feuerbachian thesis, here is an attempt to turn on its head his analysis of “God as Love” and to help us understand the role and function of Love in the act of self-giving God. The reason to use a critique or an atheist in a theological conversation could be answered in a Zizekian sense: Reverse Strategy that is, “fully endorsing what one is accused of.”[1] However, even if we don’t consider Feuerbach’s thesis as an accusation it is as Karl Barth has noted in his foreword on Essence of Christianity as ‘thorn in the flesh’ and that no theologian can ignore it.

Although in a critical mode, Feuerbach’s thought runs similar to us in this context where he questions: “God and love. God is love: but what does that mean? Is God something besides love? a being distinct from love? Is it as if I said of an affectionate human being, he is love itself?”[2] and moreover he writes, “God out of love sent his only-begotten Son. Here love recedes and sinks into insignificance in the dark background – God.”[3] And this exactly is where we could reverse Feuerbach, and affirm that, it is not Love that recedes into the background of God but it is love that emerges from the dark background. His critique continues as “Love determined God to the renunciation of his divinity … Love conquers God. It was love to which God sacrificed his divine majesty … As God has renounced himself out of love, so we, out of love, should renounce God; for if we do not sacrifice God to love, we sacrifice love to God, and, in spite of the predicate of love, we have the God – the evil being – of religious fanaticism.”[4] The above critique is pure genius of Feuerbach which directly connects us to kenosis and theological understanding of dynamics of love in crucifixion. Feuerbach even in his critical mode delivers an insightful observation that is: God being sacrificed to love. This analysis is kenotic theology in purest.

This critique could be reversed and complemented through Frank Seeburger’s The Trauma of God, wherein he talks about kenosis as ‘self-limitation’ of God. He explains, self-limitation “is literally God making room for that other to be and then keeping that room open thereafter, by keeping God’s self out of it, respecting and preserving the other.”[5] This view of kenosis is what turns Feuerbach’s critique into a theological lesson, that is, the Love of God is not a love that preserves God rather that which erases God from within, this erasure is the self-giving, or in Seeburger’s words “self-limiting” of God. It is through this we understand the role of Love in God, as in Paul’s word Love emerges as “greatest” of all (1 Cor 13:13). Therefore Love in God is not a self-pleasing act of giving in order to receive this is a perverse understanding of God’s love. God loved because Love is the “greatest” of all one can give. And because God is love (1 John 4:8) he can do nothing but give himself in totality. This love is not an empty giving away but rather a kenotic giving away, that is, giving his-self away to make space for the world (cosmos).

This helps us to understand Love as supreme driving force, that is, the power of the Holy Spirit which constantly fills in us the love of God that is, by constantly emptying himself into us. But if we hold on to a fundamentalist understanding of Christianity we are in danger of ‘sacrificing love to God.’ In understanding Kenotic Love of God, we should be able to make space for the cosmos within the body of Christ. That is why as a sign of continuing space the resurrected Christs body still carried open wounds. These open wounds remind us that God sacrificed himself at the altar of Love for the sake of redeeming cosmos not from without but from within, not by receiving but giving, a giving which would result in participation of death and suffering.

Kenotic theology does not end only at the point of God giving himself to the altar of Love. If we stop there Feuerbach’s thesis is not reversed yet. In order to reverse it ultimately we should add that God sacrificed God-ness to the altar of Love and laid no claim to it (Phil 2:6, refer New English Bible (NEB)). This kenotic God is the God of Christianity, who constantly pours of Love and Love supreme for the cosmos to be redeemed. Feuerbach rightly asks “What, then, is it that I love in God? Love: love to man."[6] This exactly is the question that is to be answered by every Christian when asking what exactly did God love? The answer is Love, and Love at what costs, at the cost of himself, and for whom, for Human Beings and the entire Cosmos.

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