Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Language, Theology, Brutality

These unpolished and loosely related thoughts are admittedly scattered, impressionistic, and flawed. But the things they suggest and gesture at are things that burn in me. This is especially true after seeing Tree of Life, a movie I hope to write about soon for this blog.

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I assume a roughly Reformed theological framework and an aesthetic theodicy that hinges on God's total sovereignty.

I acknowledge the fact of brutal human and animal suffering in the world as a result of natural and moral evils. These are finite empirical data that constitutionally cannot outweigh the infinite datum of God's glory in any consideration of whether the presence of sin or evil can be justified.

Logic, embodied in grammar, seduces the logician. Humility vanishes in the face of control and a subliminal sense of power. Thought allows human beings to have control over their life-world, which bears an inscrutable relation to the world known and sustained by an ultimate intention and intelligence.

"This is a world in which suffering colors the lives of a majority of human beings." "This is a world in which children are trained to kill one another." "This is a world in which starvation and disease are commonplace alongside unimaginable wealth and luxury."

Some words are like atomic bombs disguised to appear as arrowheads, for how much power and sorrow they conceal. In signal cases we speak, and intend something rational or expressive or superficial, and in so doing shear off the actual referents. For instance, this happens whenever an argument is made for or against God's existence when evil and suffering are called into play. We speak with an instrumental function in mind for our words in the context of a conversation, and the realities thereby invoked, we guilelessly pass over. It is not typically a directly intentional sin, rather, a formal or structural sin.

We speak with constant reference to ultimate and ineffable realities; we casually intend the infinite from a distance, but when it actually draws near, we can only offer reverential silence and prostration. I talk of God's glory as though it's an important variable in an equation; I impertinently swing it around to emphasize a point, and fail to realize that I am grubbily pawing over the very greatest good, holding it up with a light touch, as though a clown could pull up the floorboards of the universe.

Language is a tool; its application is rough and approximate. Square pegs are forced into triangular openings, and when resistance is encountered, it's the symbolized thing that suffers as the word intractably forces an entry. The world of human inclining and intending - language refracted through the prism of desire - does violence to any transcendent reality.

If we knew what we were saying - if the reality was, by some miracle, made manifest to us without remainder, even the slightest things, a pencil and a pink eraser - how could we continue speaking?

Life is not possible without language; language does not seem possible without transgression. Every revealing is also a concealing, par Heidegger. Perhaps every articulation is also, in part, a sheer loss, a destruction.


  1. Read "The Wounded Word"!! There is a positive side to language. Language is not just an inferior version of other real things. We reach things in language we can't reach otherwise. We find God in prayer precisely because language, the act of speaking, enables us to see how deeply we transgress in speaking about God. We find something to say about ourselves only by speaking. Etc., etc.

  2. its hard to say sumthing and not brake sumthing wile your doing it. bc for instants if your yelling about how Sinefelds not on tonite its hard not to brake your T-V bc of your mad.