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Visne blader

Alexander Kielland har skrevet en liten novelle som heter “Visne blader”.

Først bør du lese den.

Men hvis du ikke vil: Et par snakker sammen i en hage. De har hatt en liten krangel, slik det hender par har.

Kvinnen spør seg: Hvorfor krangler vi som elsker hverandre? Er kjærligheten slik?

Mannen bagatelliserer. Men kvinnen er alvorlig. Han mister henne – kjærligheten skulle være noe annet enn å tenke vondt om hverandre, såre og beskylde.

Mannen sier det er vanlig. Og at kjærligheten er slik.

Så går de opptil huset, kvinnen mot “livets vinter” – mannen fortvilet fordi han ikke når henne. Tilbake står stolen kvinnen satt på, blant visne blader. Med tiden, sier Kielland, setter vi oss alle der.

Og neste gang jeg går i hagen spør jeg hva kjærlighet er, hva det er å være menneske – og om det ikke finnes varme i huset de to går inn i, selv om den altomfattende, fullkomment harmoniske kjærligheten er sårbar for hva vi gjør med hverandre?

Tennyson and engagement in life

Another quote from Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’:

“How dull is it to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!”

Peace and quiet is wonderful, but without engagement in life; my children and my work needing me, without challenges and experience, life would be reduced to breathing.  It isn’t in freedom from tasks and duties that joy is found.

Ulysses gets his old friends together and starts a new journey.

“I am part of all that I have met”

Ulysses says, sitting old and restless at home, in Tennyson’s poem by the same name.

Traditionally, we think of ourselves as constant, as having a core personality, as being isolated individuals.

There are modern philosophers and thinkers who question this, saying that we are not just ourselves. We consist of our relationships and experiences.

Tennyson (one of the great English Poets) catches this in his poem. Ulysses is his travels and adventures.

And so I am both my education and my family, my youth, my relationships, the places I have visited, my work, the preaching I have heard, the books I have read, conversations I have had. In my view, a richer concept of selv than an isolated concept of personality.

Prime mover

In his history of philosophy, Frederick Copleston comments: “for Spinoza there can be no question of movement being impressed upon the world by an external cause” (Vol 4, p219)

Aristotle is the author of a famous argument for the existence of God, In brief, he says that since movement exists in the world, there has to be an unmoved mover who is its cause. This mover cannot itself be moved, since that would create the need for another unmoved mover.

This is the structure of many arguments for the existence of a God – the world needs a cause, and the cause for such a great thing can only be God. Philosophy features many interesting discussions of this.

Spinoza questions whether the unmoved mover can be external to the world. This might seem like a shocking thought, but it is really quite natural. If something causes something in the world, it has, in some way, to be part of the world, since at least in acting as a cause it is involved and inside the world.

This makes for very interesting theology. In some way, in order to act as a cause in the world, God has to be in the world.

One of the greatest philosophical questions, in my view, which I am still to overcome, is the link between the spiritual and physical, or if you please, between God and the world, or, “What is the nature of creation?” Intuitively, though I know people differ on this, I find the concept of an eternal world hard to hold. I am much more comfortable with an eternal God. However, the link between God and the world, between the material and spiritual, even though the brain signals to the body, remains a mystery to me.

But if a conclusion is possible, Spinoza at least suggests that God isn’t entirely transcendent (in the sense “apart from the world”) God is also, in some ways, immanent. Spinoza would say entirely, but as many have done, I think this empties God of his divinity.

I still need to rest in the classic Lutheran position that we are ignorant of God’s nature but may know his will and heart. But I can’t keep from trying to follow philosophy, reason and logic as far as it goes. And though many have dismissed metaphysics as beyond our competence, I still find it necessary as a theologian to check whether they’re right.

View of Scripture

People often talk about what the right view of Scripture is.

I don’t agree with the question. I think there isn’t a right view of Scripture. Scripture asks for several views.

The text which blesses those who crush children’s sculls by flinging them against the rocks (Psalm 137,9) clearly carries a different authority and perspective than Jesus’ prayer for those who crucify him: Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.

The key principle for any view of Scripture is that it must do justice to the texts. The theory must match the data. A general view of Scripture seeks to abstract what any reader will find.

Enter Scriptural diversity. From prophesy to history, poetry to historical reports. From lists, through laws to parables, apocalyptic visions, aetiologies, gospels, letters and songs. No single view of Scripture can cover this panoramic landscape of different kinds of truths.

And different kinds of speakers. Are the apostles consistently, in any context within the Bible, invested with divine authority? Is it irrelevant whether a letter is authentic or pseudepigraphic? Are there different truth criteria for biblical history than profane historical narratives. Are laws context-free?

I started my studies of theology with a firm resolution that my view of Scripture would remain intact. But Scripture happened to me. I read more carefully, faithfully and thoroughly than I had ever done. And ended up with a new view of Scripture that I find infinitely more precise and better suited to The Source than the one I had.

The problem is that this makes theology more difficult. And more important. But the blessing of it is that it in my view rather increases its truth value, communicability and intelligibility. At the cost of more room for subjectivity, but really still without reducing faithfulness to the texts or removing the possibility of revelation.

I therefore often find myself at a loss of how to respond to some of the more simple appeals to the right view of Scripture. There isn’t one. I need many views for different kinds of texts. Theology’s fundamental question isn’t the question of the authority of Scripture or the philosophical conditions of revelation. Theology’s depest questions point at God and humanity and the brilliant point of light in between that connects them: Jesus Christ.

Abba – less “dad” than we’ve thought?

I recently learned something from J.R. Daniel Kirk, a New Testament professor in Fuller Theological Seminary.

In his blog, he discusses an idea that “Abba”, a Greek word Jesus sometimes uses when referring to his heavenly Father, isn’t as intimate as we have thought for some time.

His idea sprang from an intuition that the culture of the New Testament didn’t think in similar emotional categories to ours, when describing father-to-son relationships. Although, as Sting has sung in quite a different context, all people love their children, parent-child relationships have different cultural significance.

The idea matches well with the other references to “Abba” in the New Testament. It is often used when our hearts reach out in need. It is more a cry for help from someone who cares for and looks after us than intimate and playful. A less colloquial interpretation of Abba fits well with general Jewish respect and humility towards the majesty of God.

It always takes courage to challenge a popular interpretation, especially when it is one we appreciate and have used much. Kirk’s idea still needs testing – word studies and comparisons with how the word is used elsewhere in koinè-greek. But I’ve also been a bit uneasy with the common interpretations of ‘abba’ – though I’ll still approach God as a Father, Jesus as a Brother and walk with the Spirit as my friend. Kirk’s blog is hereby recommended.

The Parable of the Workers

In Matthew 20, Jesus gives us the vineyard parable. Reading it, I noticed three things.

(1) Jesus likes work. Work is good. The Kingdom isn’t all rest. I just read somewhere else that “in the end, work is less boring than leisure. The challenge is finding the right balance between work, rest, family, church and social life. Work is a blessing.

(2) I once heard someone say that in the Middle East, the evil eye denotes envy. In Greek, and I guess in most translations, Jesus asks the workers who complain that others have worked less but received the same wages why their eyes are evil. In other words: Why do they envy their fellow labourers? Why criticise generosity? The point: Confirmation for the theory that the sermon of the mount speaks of envy when it contrasts good and bad eyes.

(3) Who are the ones who only work for an hour, but receive a full day’s wages? Gentiles? People who come to faith late in life? Even more interesting is the parable’s main point: God’s main interest is inviting as many into the kingdom as possible, regardless if they join at a late hour. And everyone gets full wages. An illustration of one of Jesus’ main messages: I didn’t come to condemn people, but to invite them to the Kingdom. Does the church follow in the same Spirit? Or do we still need to replace envious eyes faced with the generosity of God?

Songen om klokka

Eg har nettopp lese Ivar Aasen si gjendikting av eit dikt av Friederich von Schiller. Schiller levde frå 1759-1805 og er ein av dei store, tyske diktarane.

I “Songen om klokka” skildrar Schiller korleis handverkarar støyper ei kyrkjeklokke. Samstundes fortel han om korleis kyrkjeklokka ringer når ho helsar ein nyfødd gjest, i den første kjærleikstida, når mor står med barna kring seg, i arbeid, i katastrofe, ved sakn.

Nydeleg skildra, på eldre nynorsk rett nok, men sterke, jordnære bilete og mykje visdom. Mitt første møte med Schiller, vonleg ikkje det siste. Og Ivar Aasen var ein bra mann.

Jesus, children and greatness

In Matthew 18:1-5, the disciples ask Jesus: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God?”.

Newspapers and TV-shows continually ask the same question. Sport competitions, game shows, beauty magazines, the financial press, people negotiating their salaries, pupils and students, all ask the same question. We play with, stretch ourselves and engage in more or less healthy comparisons.

Do we need someone below us to feel good?

Anyhow, Jesus shows his unique kindness and humility in his reply. He places a child before them and says that whoever humbles himself as this child, taking up both the child’s social position of need and powerlessness, is the greatest in the Kingdom.

Typical of Jesus. He shifts focus from being great to seeing the greatness of others. Especially those in need of love and care. And he cares nothing for games of power and status, but much for serving. A surprising God.

This is everyday stuff to me. As a father, husband and employee, I find that grown up life is much less about freedom than about playing with the children, making sandwiches, helping with homework, sharing housework and meeting people’s needs at work.

The blessing of this text is that it puts such activities at the core of the Christian life. My seemingly endless obligations at work and in the family don’t compete with my spiritual life. They are at the heart of it. To me, living in faith increasingly means involvement in life.

Not that I am even close to christlikeness. My desires for free space and self-focus, though not sinful in themselves, compete intensively with my calling to serve. Balance is needed. But so are the words of Jesus: In facing a child or disciple, their needs are Jesus’ needs. Placed right at the centre of my reality.

Spinoza

In my journey through Francis Copleston’s nine-volume history of philosophy, I have reached Spinoza.

What I remember from my preliminary course in philosophy was that Spinoza had a theory that the world really was one great substance, which also was identified as God. As I have problems with most philosophies which make the world something else than it seems to be – or contradicts our ordinary perceptions of reality – I have passed quickly over Spinoza.

He had an interesting background, however, as he grew up in a Jewish community. That means he was familiar with the judaeo-christian concept of God. He also read Jewish mysticism. However, he rejected the basic, traditional concept of God, because he believed that God could not at the same time be infinite and transcendent. In other words: God could not be everywhere without also being everything, and if he is everything, then he is not transcendent, apart from the world or personal.

Taken at face value, this is excellent logic and reasoning. However, rather than respond as Spinoza, identifying God with everything, and becoming a pantheist, I would say that these perceptions should help us refine our concepts of infinity and our view of the relationship between God and the physical world.

Spinoza’s concept of infinity is, in my view, too strong. It demands that God’s omnipresence should be understood as a physical presence in everything. He is right in saying that some concepts of God’s omnipresence and infinity might imply this, but this is a not a necessary consequence of the traditional view that God is able to reach everyone everywhere and that the world is his creation which he still upholds.

I find it a positive consequence of Spinoza’s challenge that we need a concept of God that clearly does not make him a physical entity. We are bound to use anthropomorphic language when speaking of God, but both theologically and philosophically, it is a sound view that God is spiritual, whatever that might imply ontologically.

It is also a positive consequence that this accords creation a certain independence. Both with respect to the problem of evil and the problem of freedom and determinism, this is a good thing.

Philosophy is closely related to theology, even for protestants. I look forward to further studies of Spinoza. My tutor at the university of Bergen recommended him to me 15-20 years ago, I am beginning to understand why.