The Via Negativa in the New Testament

The following quote is from “Blessed Negativities: The Contribution of Deconstruction to Theology” by Tony Kelly. I my explorations of negative Christology I have appreciated authors like this who illustrate negative theology emerging, not from monastic speculation, but from apostolic experience.

Any assessment of deconstruction might do well to note how negation of a particular kind is evident in New Testament rhetoric, and that to a surprising degree. It is one thing for Christian hope to anticipate an ultimate fulfilment ‘that God may be all in all’ (1 Cor 15:27). It is another matter to fill that expectation with definite objects of shape, colour and temporal sequence, and to describe them in the language and imagery of a provisional world. For all the explicitness of their promise of eternal life, for all the variety of images they employ, the scriptures in fact exhibit a marked reserve in describing the realities they most witness to. Biblical faith is familiar with the double silence in the narrative of its hope: the dark silence of the dead body of Jesus on the cross; and the luminous silence of the resurrection in which faith trembles at the dawn of the new creation. Though the death and resurrection of Jesus constitute the basic parable of Christian existence, it takes none of the waiting or darkness out of our hope: ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor 2:9). Compared to human perceptions, the ways of God remain inscrutable and his judgments unsearchable (Rom 11:33). Believers are reminded not to settle for any provisional version of human identity, no matter how secure the promise of eternal life, for ‘it has not yet appeared what we shall be’ (1 John 3:2). The way God acts is not designed to fit into human calculation. The most eminent witnesses to God’s revelation, even when, after his death, Christ ‘had presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs’ (Ac 1:3), had asked, ‘Lord, is the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Ac 1:6). Jesus’ answer is instructive: ‘It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority’ (Ac 1:7). These disciples are commissioned to witness to who he was and to what had happened – ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Ac 1:8). Yet they are clearly not able to speak of an immediate demonstrable presence. Hope moves toward the fullness of life, but ‘the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11:25) is never an object of matter-of-fact description. Jesus is not seen as a presence, but believed in and loved in his absence (Cf. John 20:29-31).

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