This essay caught my eye during Holy Week. As we are only a few days removed from Easter and Holy Week, I want to take a moment to focus on Saturday—the day in-between. We most often focus on Friday, the crucifixion, or Sunday, the resurrection. But what happened on Saturday and why is it important?
As the writer notes, God wasn’t in heaven but in hell. This seems very strange. Things are out of place; things are not as they should be. Up is down and down is up. And why don’t we talk about this aspect to Holy Week?
“I’d argue that this relative silence reflects a discomfort with some of the frankly weird aspects of Christianity. As a faith Christianity has always been defined by its paradoxes: God can become a man, God can die, God can be one and three at the same time, the King of Heaven can spend a day in Hell. If anything the heresies of the patristic era—Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism and so on—are attempts to make Christianity more rational. It’s a fascinating aspect of Christianity that often the heretics are the more sober and rational ones while orthodoxy embraces enigma. Broadly speaking, the Eastern Orthodox has been more comfortable with paradox and the irrational, but in the Latin West Catholics and their Protestant inheritors have attempted to tame the scandal of Christianity with the rational equations of systematic theology.”
I agree. At its core, the Christian narrative and faith is mystical. The moment one tries to capture it in a systematic equation, a logical construction we can grasp, it slips our fingers and is gone. The modern rationalist will understand this to mean Christianity is false, or based on faith and not evidence, or an ethereal ‘touchy-feely’ psychological and emotional crutch. They will assume because it cannot be “proven” in the same way we might show our work for an algebra equation, it must be false. Of course all those who “hear” such in my assertion the Christian faith is mystical miss the point. None of that means it cannot be true or that it’s irrational. Rather, it means Truth is actually best understood as paradox, as something strange, as that which escapes our small-minded rationalities and calculations.
“In this way the positivist and the fundamentalist are strangely unified in their opposition to Tertullian’s infamous aphorism: credo quia absurdum (“I believe it because it is absurd”). The fundamentalist with his embarrassment over paradox denies the weirdness of his faith. The positivist can do no such thing and like Mr. Jefferson takes his razor to the Bible to excise the strangeness.”
Unlike the writer, I wouldn’t characterize this aspect to Christianity as a ‘weirdness’ but most certainly as a strangeness that haunts. It is a peculiarity, one often acting as a sliver in our minds and hearts. It haunts us like a beautiful poem, piece of literature, song, or woman (or man). What is it? Why does it strike us so? When it does, we are brought up short. We catch our breath. But, we could no sooner reduce our reaction to a math equation, or rational system, as we could our love for our spouse or children. When we encounter something like this, this haunting, strange, and paradoxical beauty, we have encountered Truth.
And nowhere is this strangeness and peculiarity more paradoxical and alive than when Christ cries out, “My God, my God, why…” From the essay:
“But central to the Christian vision is a profound and undeniable weirdness, and one of its strangest accounts is passed over in many a Holy Week homily. The passion story is filled with puzzles and uncertainty, from the harrowing to Christ’s cry of “My God, why have you forsaken me?” when, as GK Chesterton noted, God Himself seemed to be an atheist.* It’s these moments that constitute what Slavoj Zizek names “the perverse core of Christianity,” the anti-Gospel as Gospel—a tradition that is too often silent during Holy Week.”
* “…let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”
–GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy