So, theology stopped working: it no longer did what I wanted it to do; it no longer took the edge off or gave relief from life’s raging; it no longer withstood my desperately mobilizing it in an attempt to fashion and cling to an identity for myself. I had made it work for nearly a decade, and it did, until it didn’t. Its bankruptcy burst open before me.
And so, I couldn’t read or write anymore.
For one whose entire life was oriented around these two practices, the loss was devastating. Like a severed appendage or significant bodily failure, a part of me was gone. I’d taken it for granted, and it was only once it was ripped away that I realized how permanent this death would be. Yes, the wound could be cauterized, further infection might be arrested, but what was ripped away could never be made whole again. I would have to learn how to live on an entirely different basis.
There was one exception to this debility. I found myself able to grasp onto one small book with the desperation of a drowning man: Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.
I’d initially approached the book back in Fall 2010 because of a lot of the Kierkegaard-inflected apocalyptic theology that was exploding around then, but at the time I was disappointed, as I found the work largely incoherent. It caromed all over the place. There was no center that I could grasp onto. There was nothing I could manhandle and domesticate for my own purposes. I couldn’t get the hype. So, I stopped partway through and never finished it.
Fast-forward to sometime in (probably) 2013. I honestly don’t remember how or why I picked the book back up, but it floored me. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t get further than the introductory snapshots of what “might have been” if things had gone a little differently with Abraham and Isaac. The sense of tragedy, bewilderment, loss, and confusion was overwhelming. These glimpses of what could have been, what perhaps ought to have been, what were the only possible results of the whole ascent of Moriah, all of this just sliced right through me.
Seeing, vividly, these accounts of Abraham entrusting himself to God, or thinking he was entrusting himself to God, or sort of, but not really entrusting himself to God, and of Isaac’s faith being wrecked forever, all of this brought into sharp relief the completely dangerous and unsafe reality of trying to follow the Divine. It eviscerated the nonsense, sentimentality, and utterly inadequate advice about “trusting God” that I’d heard so often peddled in church, which could not help when things actually fell apart. Here Johannes de Silentio laid bare the catastrophic stakes involved in relating to God, both in refusing God, and, even more, in yielding.
As my life toppled over, Fear and Trembling pitched me forth into the reality that there is no safe or easy way out when it comes to the Eternal. Here, in the abyss where all has given way, the Infinite is.
When I was plummeting headfirst into the dark recesses of the Never-Never, and the Nightbringer rose up to cover the face of the deep, as reality shattered and the pieces came crashing down, I found that, here, here, God is.
And God plays for keeps.