Last night my friends and I were discussing about how obedience is never mechanical. It is not simply being told what to do and doing what we are told. Sometimes we want to be told what to do because we are having a hard time understanding what we should do, what we should believe. But notice how moralistic and systematic that is. Life cannot be reduced to a system or laws. In the end, such a view of life will suffocate you. I find that this tendency to reduce life into a system is manifested in many ways. For example, a person thinks he is called to the priesthood. He enters the seminary, does what he is told, and then thinks he can pursue his self-appointed mission. Many times we just want to get things “right.” In this case, it may very well be that he did his chores in the seminary, went to confession, etc. but is still immature. Again, it is because life is not about getting this right. Even if we know which things are “right,” what beliefs are true, we can still fall short. My friend said, “Suppose life B is good. Then you did it. So what?”
We also see this in Catholic universities where people are filled with Aquinas, Catholic orthodoxy, and good liturgies. Sorry, but I would probably be suffocated by all those things. Christianity is much more than that. I have learned more about Christianity at Rutgers than I would have learned at Christendom College. This is because God is beyond structures. This is what Pope Benedict warned us about in his encyclical on hope. It is good that we pursue good structures in society. However, no structure can ever be permanent. No structure can win the hearts of people. This is because our freedom is fragile.
Hans Urs von Balthasar has argued that a theo-drama is not committed to any laws. What is at play is infinite freedom and finite freedom. When freedoms are involved things become dynamic. There is creativity at play as well as reason. Some people speak as if creativity and logic can simply converge in a linear way. Artists know this is not right. In life, we often think of things in a linear way. However, that is not what life is. All of us know this. We get that surprising news that our wives are pregnant, that we are fired from our job, that we lost our loved ones, that our houses got hit by a hurricance, that we are told that we are loved, etc. Life is never linear. Why think Christ’s relationship to us is? In fact, all of those examples show that Christ’s relationship with us is not linear.
Take the example of John 6. Jesus was telling people that they should eat his body. They thought that he was talking metaphorically. Then, suddenly, this idea came to his head. He told him to eat his literal flesh. This is where the drama begins. He proposed something incomprehensible, something that does not make sense. What are his apostles to do? Is not truth evident to us? Don’t we have the capacity to understand it? Why don’t we understand it? Why, then, should we not leave? Peter’s answer gives us a hint: because we cannot deny what has happened to us. We do not leave because we are at least certain that this man has corresponded to our hearts in such a way that no one else can. So we stay. But what happens, what do we do, when we stay? What is the proper response to something that does not make sense? The only proper response is asking (prayer). “Who are you that I should follow you even at this moment?” This is when life begins to be dramatic and less systematic. At least at this point, there is a relationship. We see this even in Christ. His obedience is expressed in asking: “Why have you abandoned me?”
Let me comment on the doctrine of development which has been spoken of here recently. It seems to me that if life is not systematic, we should not expect doctrine to be either. In fact, suppose that Sally and Billy got married. Sally proclaimed the doctrine, “Christ sent Billy to me.” This is about Christ because it speaks about the concreteness of the event of love, the love Christ has for Sally, so concrete that she can touch him. There is nothing “new” here in the sense that we all know Christ loves us. Yet, it is a discovery to understand the meaning of “Christ loves me” in this way: “Christ sent Billy to me.” Now, was this a deductive development? Well, was it deductive that when Sally looked left, saw that Billy was looking at him, Billy came over and asked her out for the first time? Absolutely not. It is coherent, yes. It is consistent. Yet, it isn’t as if Sally planned her life at 2 pm to look left so that Billy can look at her. It isn’t as if Billy logically had to come to her and ask her out. No, it happened this way because of the free and generous love of God.
What happened in this story is that Sally followed what she was attracted to. It was not as if everything was fine from then on. They probably had many fights before they got married. Yet, obedience was not just being nice to each other. They could have made rules such as, “No fighting” and never fought. But that’s just suffocating. What is important is that both stayed in front of each other and never lost restlesness for each other. In staying in front of reality, newness and beauty jolts us. Being jolted is how we change, how we develop into maturity.