The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. Edited by Markus Bockmuehl. THE STORY OF ALL STORIES – excerpt from The Future of Jesus Christ. Richard Bauckham. (Pp 278-280)Posted: September 10, 2010
Jean-Francois Lyotard famously defined the postmodern as ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’. This rejection of any kind of grand story about the whole of reality is mainly rooted in postmodernism’s critique of the idea of progress as an ideology of domination that has legitimated the exploitative exercise of power: the domination of the West over the Third World, the affluent over the poor, even men over women. Through science, technology and education the West has imposed its own particular rationality and ideals on others. Economic globalisation is a new form of the same process. To the charge that the Christian meta-narrative has also served as justification for terror and oppression, including Christian collusion with western imperialism and the arrogance of modernity, the Christian response must be repentance. But the horrors of Christian history are not the whole story, and one should go on to ask whether such abuses are inherent in the Christian meta-narrative or whether the meta-narrative itself might not expose them as abuses. The further dimension of postmodernist critique that regards any meta-narrative as per se oppressive depends on the radical relativity of truth for postmodernism. Truth is always somebody’s truth. A meta-narrative is the grandest way of imposing my truth on others by assigning them a place in my scheme of things. But for those for whom the venture of truth cannot be abandoned without self-contradiction and for whom the postmodernist assumption that the will to power is over-ridingly operative in all intellectual and other ventures is too cynical, the character of the specific meta-narrative in question also makes a difference in considering its potential for dominative abuse.
If Jesus and his story are decisive for the Christian meta-narrative, two aspect of his story should be recalled: the cross and his still future coming. Moreover, these two are connected in that the Christian story attributes to Jesus a consistent identity: he is ‘the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb 13.8) The coming of Christ is the same Christ who was crucified. In chapter 5 of the book of Revelation it is the slaughtered lamb. Christ crucified in his sacrificial love for the world, who shares the divine throne and receives the acclamation of his sovereignty from all creation. It is the one whom they pierced whom all the tribes of the earth will see when he comes (Rev 1.7). Jesus’ loving self-identification with all, which reached its furthest point in his death, is thus not left aside in his coming to rule, but remains permanently his identity, precisely in his exercise of God’s rule. It is as non-dominating love that he is decisive for the meaning of the whole story of the world. This ensures that, although as we have stressed already he also comes to make the truth of all people and all history finally and unavoidably clear, this truth is not the expression of his will to power. Each will recognise it, even if tragically, as the real truth of his or her own life.
This eschatological revelation of the truth of all things is still to come. The Christian meta-narrative, properly understood, is not a story that suppresses all other stories, but one that leaves open the future for the inclusion of all other stories in the only one capable of being their ending too. This is because it is not, like the myth of progress, a story of history’s own immanent potential alone, but a story that has already, in the resurrection of Jesus, broken the bounds of this world’s own reality and promises and end that comes as God’s transcendent gift to his creation, fulfilling but also surpassing its own potential. Unlike the myth of progress, it is not a story that will privilege the victors over the victims of history, for the end that comes with the parousia of Jesus will come to all history and as life for the dead. The countless victims of history, those whose lives have been torture and those who have scarcely lived at all, all those whom progress can only forget, are remembered by the Christ who identified with their fate and comes as their redeemer. The horrors of history, the tragedy and the loss, the negatives which defy any grand story of immanent meaning in history, forcing it to suppress them or to justify them, are fully acknowledged by the Christian meta-narrative, because it is a story of transcendent redemption. It does not offer the kind of purely theoretical theodicy that would silence the cries and the protests of the suffering, but finds in Jesus crucified God’s loving solidarity with all who suffer and resists all premature closure, maintaining the protest against evil, suffering and death until Jesus comes with the redemptive conclusion that only God can give.
Christian hope for the future of Jesus Christ promotes the same kind of compassionate and undaunted engagement with reality for the sake of its future in God that Jesus himself practised and pioneered as far as death, trusting that his way is the way to the kingdom of God. It is neither promethean, burdening history with an eschatological requirement of achievement it cannot bear, as the myth of progress did, nor quietist, leaving the world to its fate as every dualistic spirituality must do. It neither over reaches itself in attempting what can only come from God nor neglects what is humanly possible in God’s grace. Sustained by the hope of everything from God, it attempts what is possible within the limits of each present. It does not value what can be done only as a step in a cumulative process towards a goal. It does what can be done for its own sake, here and now, confident that every present will find itself, redeemed and fulfilled in the new creation. Most characteristically of all, it knows that only by expending life in the service of God and God’s world can life finally be found secure, hidden with the Christ who is yet to be revealed.