Sunday, October 07, 2007

the second temptation of Christ: putting God to the test

Benedict XVI has a nifty interpretation of the second temptation in the desert. The emphases, indicated by italics, are mine:

"The second temptation has to be interpreted as a sort of vision, which once again represents something real, something that poses a particular threat to the man Jesus and his mission. The first point is the striking fact that the devil cites Holy Scripture... He quotes Psalm 91 [to Jesus]:'For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'

The whole conversation of the second temptation takes the form of a dispute between two Bible scholars, [Christ and the devil]... the devil presents himself here as a theologian.

The Russian writer Vladimir Soloviev took up this motif in his short story 'The Antichrist'. The Antichrist receives an honorary doctorate in theology from the University of Tubingen and is a great Scripture scholar. Soloviev's portrayal of the Antichrist forcefully expresses his skepticism regarding a certain type of scholarly exegesis... scriptural exegesis can become a tool of the Antichrist. Soloviev is not the first person to tell us that; it is the deeper point of the temptation story itself.

[A]... common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history - that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity.

The point at issue is revealed in Jesus' answer[to Satan] ... :'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test' (Deut 6:16). This passage from Deuteronomy alludes to the story of how Israel almost perished of thirst in the desert. Israel rebels against Moses, and in so doing rebels against God.

God has to prove that he is God. The Bible describes this rebellion against God as follows: 'They put the Lord to the proof by saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?' '

The issue is one we have already encountered: God has to submit to experiment.
He is 'tested', just as products are tested. He must submit to the conditions that we say are necessary if we are to reach certainty. If he doesn't grant us now the protection he promises in Psalm 91, then he is simply not God. He will have shown his own word, and himself too, to be false.

We are dealing here with the vast question as to how we can and cannot know God, how we are related to God and how we can lose him. The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp.

To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too. "
So certain modern hermeneutics allow us to fall victim to the second temptation that Christ rejected so long ago: to make God prove that He is God:
"And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his type of exegesis, the supposedly purely scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times."
I can't help but think about how this state of affairs owes much to our propensity for what I always call "aliveism" -- the prejudice that suggests that the only really smart people are the ones who are alive today; that every human being from the past is automatically not as cool or smart as we are who are alive today.

Jesus advised us elsewhere in the gospels to become like little children if we want to enter the kingdom of God. Little children trust their parents and accept their parents' word for things. We grow up, and we stop taking anybody's word for anything. We practice "aliveism" and know that we are the smartest, bestest folks that ever lived.

And when we think about God or search for God, we find ourselves guilty of discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening.

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