Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Superfluousness

Albert Einstein* once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler,” and, trusting girl that I am, I believed him. After all, there is quite a beauty in the simplicity of the profound laws that govern the universe, in the seemingly dissimilar properties of autumn leaves and planetary rotation that are both dictated by the “simple” law of gravity.

But somewhere along the way, while trying to understand the “simple” laws of salvation (I think the one word that was supposed to answer every question and sum up the laws of the Universe was always “Jesus”), I confused simplicity for scarcity. Scarcity seemed to govern the economy of salvation, as if God wanted to figure out how he could efficiently save the greatest number of people with the least effort, and sending his only begotten son to suffer and die seemed to be the best (because it was the only) way to do it.

But as Robinson Jeffers once asked (in a poem I’ve quoted here before), “Is it not by his high superfluousness we know / Our God?” What if the Cross is better understood as extravagance, rather than the last-ditch effort to save the sinking ship of humanity? What if Grace is not the abstract Platonic ideal that saves us from hell, but the lavish graces God gets a kick out of pouring on us? What if the economy of salvation is governed by the excesses of God?

The Catholic Church believes that Mary is the Mediatrix of all Graces (not Grace, interestingly, but Graces), and additionally has quite a legion of mediators in all the saints. I always thought this seemed a bit over-the-top, considering the extent to which the book of Hebrews goes in presenting Christ as the Great High Priest and the Mediator of the New Covenant.

But even without the Catholic troupe of mediators, it strikes me that scripture is not so stingy with its graces: it can assert confidently in one place that Christ himself intercedes for us before the Father and console us in another that the Holy Spirit is interceding for us in our weakness. Actually, it dawns on me that in the simple, stripped-down version of the Gospel that I always assumed was desirable, the Holy Spirit is entirely superfluous; all we need is a God to create us and his Son to die for us (the Resurrection is also superfluous if all we needed was someone to pay the price for our sins so we can go to heaven when we die). Issues of Mary and the saints aside, it seems that there are graces aplenty.

Maybe Einstein is still right out there somewhere, but maybe we tend to make things quite a bit more simple than possible. Maybe the governing laws of salvation are much more lavish than I had ever imagined, and maybe the one answer brings together many more questions than I had been prepared to ask.


*As quoted by internet quotation databases, always a precarious source.

3 comments:

Eric said...

"Even without the Catholic troupe of mediators." My mother, a staunch Protestant, reminds me that for a Protestant it is not that we lack saints, it is rather that we are all saints. Rather than lacking mediators we are all universally under that call.

I certainly don't mean this as an anti-Catholic crack, but it strikes me that the first superfluousness of mediators in the Bible is God's constant desire to work through human agents to dispense His grace.

Em the luddite said...

Absolutely true... and this is of course a fundamental (and often forgotten) element in both Catholic and Protestant doctrine. I suppose any doctrine that acknowledges that we as the people of God are a part of one body gives us quite a posse, especially if your theology allows you to include the seemingly-departed members.

Kathy said...

Don't forget the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus didn't just provide simliar wine (or the expected cheaper wine after "the guests have drunk freely," but really, really great wine, and gallons and gallons of it. I have heard preaching on this as an example of God's overflowing generosity towards us.

"... good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap..."