around our dining room table, cindy and stumbled our way into an interesting conversation while we picked at our dinner of salad greens, polish sausage, microwave-baked potatoes, and yogurt. cindy is taking a summer class on the modern catholic novel (e.g., graham greene, flannery o’connor, etc.) that has led into a lot of discussions about grace, revelation, creation, and natural law. between this and my recent interest in barth, we’re lucky our dinner conversation doesn’t become a food fight.

on monday night, the connection between ontological and hermeneutical assumptions was at issue. somehow paul ricoeur functioned as the jumping off point for the whole to-do, but i can’t quite remember how. it ended with the two of us washing dishes and making some tea while i pontificated on the difference between what, for lack of better terminology, i call the abstract stance and the narrative stance. cindy eventually handed me the dish towel and politely excused herself on the pretext of reading for class.

still, i think i’m on to something (that’s probably already been said). i should credit barth (and, indirectly, von balthasar’s treatment of barth) with directing me to the happening character of God’s relationship to us. most emphatically in Jesus, but in God’s history with israel too, God comes to us in events, in actions, in moments of time. the word history itself betrays this event-like, actual character, and it provides an excellent entrance into story or narrative as the conceptual framework that structures our theological and doxological reflection.

this sort of active, happening understanding of our relationship with (or, perhaps better, relating to) God seems to pervade the new testament, or, at least, it promotes a better reading of many passages. mark, matthew, luke, paul, and john of patmos all embrace an eschatological vision that waits for God to bring all things together at the parousia through the final intervention of Jesus. debatably, john can be added to this list too. what this story-shaped stance produces is an openness to God’s continued action, the conviction that he exceeds every particular revelatory event (with the exception of Jesus, who in turn superabounds every formulation of his identity–why else do we have four Gospels?), and hope, a hope in God finishing the story he started.

the alternative is to abstract. this impulse develops early in church history, finding full-bodied expression in the work of the second-century apologists. in place of the unfolding action of narrative experience, theology becomes static, synchronic. one might blame the influence of hellenistic philosophy, the cultural play-dress-up that christians use to gain some intellectual capital. one might blame a lot things. in this view, God quickly moves from person to principle, the event of God’s breaking into our world become theoretical points, and hope becomes a conclusion. things are much more manageable (albeit pagan).

the way i see it, relating to God is not something that can be developed a priori (like marechal, de lubac, or rahner) or a posteriori (like bits of thomas, most of the scholastics, schleiermacher, etc.). it can neither be an assumption nor a deduction. it is something that happens, something we wait for, crying out “how long?” only when we see ourselves as standing in the middle of a story, between the “in the beginning” and the “amen,” do God and reason come together.

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