Friday, September 28, 2007

Bergman and Chesterton: Struggling to Express the Unthinkable (Some light weekend reading)

Last night I got a group of people together to watch Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light. This was my third time watching the film and in a strange way the most shocking. I was shocked at just how devastating was the despair in the film and I was even more shocked at just how much I related to it. There is something very the matter with the earth, and this pastor in this film is done denying it. In fact he finally cries out about it.

And for many interpreters of the film, I think this represents his loss of faith. In fact, even to him it surely does. In that moment he says he is free. But even there in the stark cold of the bright winter light of his new-found freedom from God, significantly, immediately, in his sickness and his suffering and in his freedom he crumbles at the altar of the crucifix of God.

So for some reason he ends up back at the church again, preparing to serve the communion. There is but one soul in the building ready to receive. She is an avowed atheist, and yet she holds out hope for him.

And in comes Algot the hunchback, who ordinarily simply lights the candles and rings the bells. But this time he does so in more ways than one, for he reminds Tomas the pastor and doubter about when God was forsaken of God. And it is in this solidarity with his sufferings that I think this despairing pastor finds the faith again to go on. Even if barely.

But it strikes me that this is the part of the cross of Christ that evangelicalism struggles to forget. We want to skip the forsaken Christ and get on with the fulfilled life. We deny the gravity of the earth's situation in order to have our own piece of heaven on earth. Thus we alienate those who are wrestling with God. Instead of helping them wrestle (and lose) we leave them to wrestle alone and win. And in a wrestling match with God the worst thing you can hope for is to win.

So Christ, when he walked the earth, did his best for all of us when he wrestled our fight with his Father and took our loss on himself. In losing it as man he was winning it as God with us. This is our only hope, and as the cross must not be emptied of its meaning so here the empty tomb must be filled.

Having watched that film last night it was curious today that I should turn in GK Chesterton's Orthodoxy to these startling lines:

“If the divinity [of Christ] is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete (204). . . .

Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all the creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point – and does not break (205). . . .

In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologise in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt (205). . . .

In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God" (205). . . .

As GK challenges, search high and low and you won’t “find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but 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” (205-206).

At the cross we find a God in solidarity with our dismay at the wreck the world is in, and who at once takes out his anger and absorbs it in himself. We find a God who entered the silence that our Fall has brought. We find a God who came. So while we feel the silence we know that Jesus felt it too. So we feel and know that God is with us in it, and that in the crucified Saviour there is a silent suffering that speaks louder than words.

Yet hearkening throughout the centuries is this promise ringing with every church bell and flicking with every church candle (even while the church-folk sleep or sway obliviously) that there is more to the story yet to be told: That it may be winter, but there is yet some light in this solidarity of the Saviour, and in it the promise of spring.

1 comment:

Tony Tanti said...

I need to read Orthodoxy again, those passages are outstanding, as is this post.

Oh that the spring would come soon.