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The God Who May Be

April 12, 2007

the_god_kearney.jpgThis is part of a series of posts detailing my thoughts on books read in preparation for Emergent Village Theological Philosophical Conversation. Next up: The God Who May Be by Richard Kearney

My thoughts on the chapters 4-5 of Kearney’s The God Who May Be can be found here at the church and postmodern culture: conversations. My thoughts on chapters 1-3 are as follows:

The main thesis of Kearney’s book is implied in his title and conveyed in its first line: “God neither is nor is not but may be.” (p.1) God is possibility, an eschatological horizon that is always just out of reach, the power of a transforming future. This position is a philosophical mediation between the onto-theology of Aquinas and the scholastics and the negative theology of Dionysius and postmodern tradents.

In his first chapter, Kearney sketches a phenomenology of the persona. For Kearney, the persona always lies just out of reach. Persona is the wholly other that cannot be reduced simply to what we know, cannot be pigeonholed to our perception of the other. Yet, there is a desire to reduce nonetheless. This takes the form of either a denial of the knowing the other at all (an utter transcendence) or reduction merely to what we know about the other – complete transcendence or complete immanence, once again. However, the persona is always prosopon, the other that is right in front of us, but not reducible merely to what we see in front of us. It is not a state of being, but an ethical force. Our response to the God, the persona prosopon is a transformative act. The persona, the other (and ultimately the Other) is present in the interplay, a transfiguring presence that is but also will be.

Kearney’s second chapter attempts to play this idea of transforming persona out in relation to the call of Moses in Exod 3. He plays onto-theological and via negativa readings of the story against each other, ultimately embracing his own eschatological reading of the passage where God’s self-declarative name is seen as an ethical mandate of solidarity with the Hebrew is Egypt. It is a hope against hope for freedom from slavery: ’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh translated as I-am-who-may-be. However, this reading and understanding of ’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh can even be pulled further than Kearney’s own portrayal. The word ’asher is not simply “who” it can also be “that,” “when” or even “where.” Linguistically speaking it is a “gap word” that is part relative pronoun, part conjunction. The interplay here between “I will be who I will be” and “I will be where I will be” or even “I will be when I will be” speaks to the heart of Moses’ concern when he asks for the name in the first place “am I going at this alone?” God’s self-declaration speaks to a future tied to the plight of the people but at the same time wholly other not just in essence but in place and time as well.

In his third chapter, Kearney then applies his hermeneutic of transformation to the biblical accounts of the transfiguration and the four paschal appearances of Jesus. His point is that the transformative transfiguration of the pesona of Jesus vis-à-vis the Christ (the two in one) is the foundation for the both ethical messages of Christ’s persona predicated on this transformation that ruptures time and the figurative mystique of New Age “DIY self improvement techniques” (p. 48). Kearney holds the latter needs to be rejected, as well as those who would seek to hold onto the persona, as Peter attempted on Mt. Tabor. “The transfiguring persona signals the ultimate solidarity, indeed indissociability, of spirit and flesh.” (p. 51)

Also check out the thoughts of Doug Davis on chapters 1-3 over at the church and postmodern culture: conversations.

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