Wednesday, 19 November 2008

At Vanderbilt

If you’re in the Nashville area this week, I’ll be giving a paper on Thursday at Vanderbilt Divinity School (time: 6.30 pm / venue: Tillett 
Lounge). The paper is entitled “Grace Interrupts Nature: Towards an Apocalyptic Revision of the Doctrine of Creation.” Here’s an excerpt:

From the standpoint of “nature” as such, I think we can therefore regard the death and resurrection of Jesus as a fundamentally disordering intrusion into history. It is worth considering here Slavoj Žižek’s – admittedly rather startling – identification of “love” and “evil.” For Žižek, love enters the world as an alien principle, a contradiction of the very order of reality. Ethically, love is a refusal of the Kantian categorical imperative. It is an absolutely ungrounded choice of the one over the many. Love opposes all natural law; it is against nature, and as such can be described formally and ontologically as “evil,” as the precise opposite of the ethical “good”. In a similar way, the resurrection of Jesus takes place in the world as a contradiction of the world’s own structures and possibilities; it introduces rupture within the world’s order, tearing open a space within which its own new order can begin to take form. As God’s eschatological act, the death and resurrection of Jesus breaks with being itself, bringing into existence something wholly new: in Pauline language, this is nothing less than the inauguration of a new creation.

To speak of new creation as divine apocalyptic incursion may seem unsettlingly violent and disruptive – and it is true that Paul’s own imagery is pervaded by the atmosphere of violent militancy. But in fact an apocalyptic conception of creation inverts the symbiotic structures of peace/violence, order/chaos, being/nothingness. With Paul, one can say that God comes to the world as a militant incursion, effecting a decisive conquest over the powers of the present age. From the perspective of the world’s own order, this divine apocalypse can only be regarded as a violent intrusion; but this event is in fact nothing else than the incursion of peace into a world so radically disordered that peace itself appears as violence, just as love appears as the ethical evil. The Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe illustrates this kind of symbiotic inversion when he notes the way in which industrial strikes are frequently depicted as “disturbances of industrial peace,” so that the end of a strike is understood as “a return to normality and order” – whereas, in reality, capitalism itself is a permanent disorder, a “state of war” which is only occasionally interrupted by the order of peace. When the peace of God comes to the world, it overturns the world’s violence and so appears to the world as violence and conflict; the new order of God’s reign dissolves all law, and so appears to the world as disorder and anarchy. The love of God contradicts nature, and so appears to the world as a rupture of “evil”, indeed as the very negation of being. [...]

Paul highlights this point in his teaching on baptism: in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is no ‘male and female’” (Gal. 3:28). As J. Louis Martyn observes, this liturgical formula, with its allusion to Genesis 1:27, suggests that “in baptism the structure of the original creation had been set aside”. The Christian community finds its origin in a moment of generative divine disruption: in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has interrupted the world’s order, setting it aside and bringing forth a new community with a new principle and a new order. In this divine irruption, the world’s order is exposed as disorder; and God’s (apparently chaotic and disordering) advent is revealed as “new creation” – as the generative inauguration of the world’s new and proper order.

It is in this sense that I would like to speak of creatio as an event which occurs in history but which is nevertheless strictly ex nihilo: God’s creative act in the resurrection of Jesus is wholly contingent, non-necessary, presuppositionless; it is not necessitated by any prior logic, nor framed by any prior context. As the classical ex nihilo doctrine emphasised, the creative event is rather that which produces every context and every frame of reference. And since this event takes place not outside but within history, it occurs also as a disturbance and dislocation of the world’s internal order – a dis-ordering of being which is nothing else than the creative generation of a new order, an incursion of peace which dislocates the world’s violence.


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