The Secret History of History, or Just Say Yes to Yes
One of the reasons Muslims reject Christianity is that they cannot imagine God as man, since it is so beneath his station. It's unthinkable, like Cary Grant playing a sewer worker or MSNBC host (yes, I know, a distinction without a difference).
The point is that for the Christian, God's revelation fundamentally appears as historical action, as doing. His doing is anterior to our knowing. This is why no one could understand the teaching until the action -- the drama -- was fulfilled. And even then, it took years of collective reflection upon the drama to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, we're still trying to divine the divine plot.
It seems that many people try to focus on something Jesus said, or even the totality of what he said, in the absence of the underlying drama that ties it all together. But Jesus is unlike any other religious figure, about whom the facts of their lives are inconsequential to the teaching -- any more than the facts of science are determined by the personal biography of the researcher. You can study math or physics without getting into Einstein's childhood or Newton's manner of death. Likewise Buddha or Mohammed.
What this suggests is that God's truth -- or the truth he is trying to convey to us -- is again not at all analogous to scientific truth, which can be handed from mind to mind in an unproblematic way. What is the truth he is trying to convey? And why must it be presented in this way, as historical drama?
HvB writes that "it is absurd to say No to truth, which is of its essence good." Nevertheless, it is a truism that people everywhere and everywhen are always saying No to truth. You can hand them the truth on a silver platter, and they will reject it.
For example, one of the most naive traits of Obama is that he thinks he can actually change the behavior of evildoers merely by being "reasonable" with them. But Ahmadinejad, Kim, Hamas, Chavez, et al, only see this as weakness and opportunity. In order to deal with them, you cannot just speak truth. Rather, you must do truth. Words not backed by action are worthless, especially when coming from a politician, of all people.
But could we also say that God's words are -- with all due respect -- worthless in the absence of action? For example, I can sign a contract -- which is a kind of covenant -- that is full of fine words, but it doesn't mean much unless I back it up with action.
Thus, it seems that God's actions in history are there to remind us of the extent to which He will go to back up his Word -- which is to say, all the way. His Word is also his bond, to which he is faithful. He doesn't pull back at the last minute and say, "look, this crucifixion business is going a bit far, don't you think? Let's talk this out and be reasonable, shall we? I'm sure we can come to a mutually agreeable compromise."
Here is the dilemma for God: "how to elicit the Yes of his free partner from the latter's innermost freedom" (HvB). Again, for Balthasar, the essence of the Theo-Drama is this encounter between infinite and finite freedom. How can man surrender to infinite freedom without undermining his own?
This is not an idle question. For example, Islam (and Christians who believe in predestination) resolves the problem by canceling out man's freedom and attributing everything to God's omnipotence. One of the duties of Islam is Jihad, or the violent imposition of "Allah's truth" on others. Freedom doesn't enter into it. Scientism deals with the problem either by ignoring the question of how free will could arise in a deterministic universe, or by insisting that it's just an illusion anyway. Existentialism deals with it by suggesting that man's freedom is "ultimate," but this immediately reduces to nihilism, since our freedom has no purpose beyond itself.
But in reality, our finite freedom can only be a freely given gift of the infinite freedom. It comes from infinite freedom and must freely return to it in order for it to be true to itself. Thus, a major theme of the Theo-Drama is this spiraling return of finite freedom to infinite freedom without being forced. We must utter the Yes to God from the depths of our own freedom, in the same way that God utters his Yes to man from the depths of his.
Jesus is God's word, and that word is primarily Yes: yes to existence, yes to life, yes to freedom, yes to love. But remember, Jesus is also man, so he is simultaneously man's ultimate Yes to God. So there is the essence of your Theo-Drama, this mutual dialogue between free partners. Again, the drama is taking place "within" God, i.e., the Trinity, but it is also happening in history, allowing us to take part in the drama -- to say Yes to it, jump on the stage, and accept our role.
Please note that when this Yes happens, it is only the beginning, not the end, of your own little theo-drama. Isn't this what Jesus promised the apostles? Not, "follow me and your problems are over," but "follow me and your problems have only just begun." "For they will hate you as they hate me."
Wait -- who's "they" and what exactly do they hate?
As you can see, it's somewhat of a miracle that anyone followed him, is it not? This was not Deepak Chopra offering the seven secrets to spiritual success, but the one big secret of how to get yourself in trouble with the Roman authorities, big time. Great! Sign me up!
Yet, as Will mentioned in a comment yesterday, there is something so compelling about being in the Cosmo-Drama, that everything else pales in comparison:
"The Real Drama is not a trackless land. Study the lives of the saints, they've mapped it out pretty well, they laid down a template for negotiating your way around. It's *the* real landscape they've configured, and what doesn't make sense in the mundane world makes perfect sense there. And for those moments when your psyche is clear and your spiritual clarity is at its zenith, you'll look around and think, Who the hell in his right mind would want to live in this mundane reality hellhole?"
Living in the higher light of this drama, everything becomes more intense with meaning. I believe that this is because the closer one draws to ontological realities, the more vivid life becomes, whether it is death, or birth, or marriage, whatever; it is near these boundaries of existence that we live most intensely, and the boundary of mundane existence necessarily shades off into the celestial. Heaven is conjoined to earth, but only by virtue of being separate from it. Thus, heaven's distance is the possibility of its proximity. Insert drama here.
The Theo-Drama is the secret history of the world. It is both written and unwritten, closed and open, again, in respect of man's freedom. I would conceptualize it as I would a work of art, in which things are conditioned from top to bottom, e.g., theme --> plot --> character --> action --> dialogue. At each level down, there is more apparent freedom, and yet, everything is ultimately constrained from above.
Take this post, for example. It is composed of spontaneous words that I have spun out in freedom. And yet, it's all just dialogue in the Theo-Drama, mine and now yours.