Culture At Large

Mourning as Christian Living

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

Something I’ve discovered in my graduate work is that secular authors who are often quite critical of Christianity have beautiful ways of talking about the transcendent or love or relationships between humans that point an arrow straight toward God (or at least, I read it that way).

Here’s an example: today I was reading Undoing Gender by Judith Butler, considered by many a foundational author for gender theory.  She writes this about mourning:
I think instead that one mourns when one accepts the fact that the loss one undergoes will be one that changes you, changes you possibly forever, and that mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation the full result of which you cannot know in advance.
I was stunned by this line. If we think of mourning in this way, we might call Christianity a lifelong exercise in mourning. In one sense, we are transformed because of a death in the first century. In another sense, we are constantly mourning the loss of a perfect relationship with God that we have never personally experienced. In both cases, our sinfulness and Christ’s death, we are being transformed (as Paul says, by the renewing of your minds) toward the people we will be on the new earth.  I think the season of Advent has a mood that fits this characteristic of Christianity.

Not only that, but the separation between us and God meant that God had to undergo a transformation and become incarnate, though most theologians believe God knew the result. This quotation, and some of the other things Butler said in that chapter about how human life isn’t possible without other humans, even though other humans are also what often threatens many people’s ability to live and thrive. We have to risk injury to exist, we have to risk mourning to love.  God took a risk in loving us already knowing that it would lead to Christ’s death. What a challenging example as we try to make ourselves vulnerable to each other.

God’s work in the world and in us is so complicated. A friend of mine likes to say that God is so organized, he’s never doing just one thing. I’m thankful for a God who teaches us about himself even through people who don’t know they are doing it.

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Theology & The Church, Theology