To my mind there is no way to conceive of God in a Christian sense without conceiving of ourselves as servants. ‘Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
Since Kant, ‘individuals’ want ‘autonomy’, self-lordship. Since Nietzsche, we want this in a secular, humanistic sense. With the collapse of the biblical over-arching metanarrative, the modernist has to invent for themselves their own identities and eschatologies. This is exhausting, leading to nihilism – an absence of traditions and criteria upon which to build a concept of self or one’s purpose or telos, generating a sense of emptiness or option paralysis. Corporate self-interested bodies are more than happy to supply the needed content – product consumer-driven fashion-based notions of well-being and identity, herding people into homogenized norms of consumption upon which they then define themselves. Seeing this as freedom, people are really often slaves to multinationals and other powerful corporate bodies, and are perpetually weary and busy therein following the blue-prints of socially constructed virtual realities determined by peer-group pressure and media conditioning. Films like ‘The Joneses’ make this point well.
The Bible calls this ‘Egypt’ or ‘Babylon’, and also calls it slavery and oppression. Being a servant of God, conversely, is indeed likened to being a ‘slave’ or ‘prisoner’ of Christ. But this means something freeing that is set in tension with oppression and slavery in Egypt and Babylon. God provides good terms of employment, where possible, though it is not always immediately possible, depending on the (inter)national situation.
Eschatologically, God liberates us from the entire fallen reality; in the meantime, there may be suffering, but it is not worth comparing to the glories to come. Serving God, then, is like slavery in terms of ‘ownership’ – we are God’s property bought at a price by Christ’s blood and provided for; but is the opposite of slavery in terms of ‘oppression’: it is not oppressive, but where possible in this life, and certainly in the next, we are liberated into service in line with our desires and abilities: we serve in ways we want to serve. Admittedly, martyrdom can happen – which is hardly pleasant. But nor is this some perverse ideal that God seeks for us. It occurs when enemies of God kill his servants, preventing them from serving as God would have them serve ideally, which is according to desire and ability: you want to do it; and you can do it.
Modernism, though, is presented in modern art as alienating, as abstracting the workers from the products of their labour, as crushing their life-worlds beneath systems of industrialized streamlining that serve only their powerful owners. This kind of servanthood is what we are most of us in to some extent; but serving God is its opposite. So, it is not as if folks are free and as if Christianity is some terrible hegemony; rather, folks are already in the latter, and Christianity seeks to free them from it.
Now, of course, it remains the case that Christendom – which is Platonized Christianity, as opposed to Christianity proper – has indeed been oppressive, and was even the source of the modernist oppressions just noted. The way to freedom was not through Kant and Nietzsche, however; rather it was through a de-Platonizing of the Christian religion – now possible through the rise of historical consciousness, though not so long as neo-pragmatism and cultural Marxism hold sway. These are brutal oppressors.
There is much more to say but this will do for now.
NOTE: This is a new series on Gralefrit Theology, and is a collaboration with Dr Rob Knowles, who is an expert in the Western philosophical tradition, biblical hermeneutics and specialises in the work of Professor Anthony Thiselton. Rob has been featured on this blog before.
All the questions are from the people in the pews or the street – ordinary people asking great questions that vex them in some way.
If you have a question that you are vexed by, please submit it via the comments box, I would be thrilled to hear from you.