“A Man Will Come Whose Heart Is Deep”

PRELUDE

I read this line in Psalm 63 for the first time on the way to my grandmother’s funeral, because I wanted to kiss her head and feet, and speak some prayers, Celtic and from the Psalms, over her body. They had kept the body in the mortuary, so I could do this. In the airport, before the flight, I was leafing through the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Psalms used by the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, and suddenly Psalm 63 [King James 64] loomed up, and when I saw its title, it was like a visceral blow.

1,

The Psalms of David are poems, and they were originally sung. They are an intimate conversation between the human heart and the sought for, but struggled with, heart of God. The human deep cries to the divine deep [Psalm 41]. In the Psalms we cry out of our truest and profoundest heart to God. But we also do more than cry. We put God on trial, as the Jews did at a Nazi extermination camp. Both the human heart, and the heart of God, are existentially ‘on trial’ in this world.

As Bishop Basil once told me, such crying, screaming, raging, complaining, blaming, and even hating, of God is the world’s prayer. These ‘profane prayers’ are often more sincere than the words of praise which always absolve God. One of the secret teachings of the Psalms is that God cannot be absolved if humanity is convicted; thus in the coming redemption the Messiah will prove the case both for God and for humanity.

The Psalms are particularly important because they portray, honestly and not piously, the depth of the troubled relationship between humanity and God. It is in the deep place that there is contention and strife, and it is in this very difficult place, of both heaven and hell, where it can still go either way.

In the deeps of the heart is the ‘wailing wall’ where human passion fails, comes so far, and cannot go further. Human passion comes to an enforced, but ancient, limit, and at that limit it stops. At that limit, it is defeated, and lays in the dust, derelict, and utterly forlorn, comprehensively desolate. We cry and rage at our own ruination, in the heart’s passion. That God has no heart for us is hard to bear, but that we have no heart for existence is equally heavy. We despair. It is this weight the Messiah shoulders, as no prior human being, even with spiritual guidance and help, could.

All this is hinted at, and even disclosed, in the poetry and music of David. These things cannot be stated by philosophy, nor by any theology.

All this is mystery, thus only poetry and its music, conveys it ‘accurately.’ Any other attempt to speak of it will almost inevitably become, as my grandmother used to put it, ‘just goin round and about, like those old preachers.’ She did not like the Fundamentalism of America, because the Spirit’s work in her fidelity to Christ made her soul an open space welcoming one and all. She had no time for who was ‘in or out.’

Christ’s deed is universal, because it addresses the deepest heartbreak, and most fundamental failure to hit the mark, in every human heart.

The Messianic deed frees a path from human depth to God’s depth, thus reigniting our passion in God’s passion.

2,

The Psalms are amazing because over the span of their entire length, David is ‘wave tossed.’ Hidden things, outer and inner, are exposed. Impediments, inner and outer, are confronted. Only through much Sturm und Drang does a picture of who and what the Messiah is gradually crystallise.

The Messiah must be human, or the human problem is not really locked horns with by God. A divine avatar ‘just visiting’, and sprinkling some angel dust, cannot shift the impediment by lifting the load. But David, though presenting the Messiah as flesh and blood, embodied, fully human, with all the God-given gifts and Spirit-inspired dynamisms of the human, steps out onto much more dangerous ground for a Jew, and in fact transgresses the dualistic boundary between divine and human. For the Messiah becomes something more than human, at certain key points. The Messiah is also divine. This is not, however, Oriental merging or oneness any more than it is Occidental separation or twoness.

The ‘divine-humanity’ is the new mystery of the Messiah.

The blurring of any clear-cut, hard and fast, line between divine and human in the strange figure of the Messiah occurs mainly, if not exclusively, in regard to the Messiah as ‘king’, not prophet, not priest.

The Messiah is a special king, chosen and empowered by God to bring God’s kingdom to earth, so that it does not remain confined in heaven, and to establish God’s justice through-out the world, “from sea to sea, and from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the ends of the earth” [Psalms, 71, 8]. As in the case of the Celtic high king, when the chief ruler is upright, the land itself flowers and is fruitful. An unrighteous king is a curse on the land= “the land mourns, the pastures of the wilderness are dried up” [Jeremiah, 23, 10]. Thus the Messiah, as the true king of kings, brings universal abundance.

God’s kingship is actualised through the instrument of the Messianic kingship. Yet sometimes they are hardly distinguishable= any differentiating of them disappears. Psalm 71 seems to be extoling the kingship of God and then, suddenly and seamlessly, this becomes not the divine king, but the Messianic king whom the people pray God to send them, so he can stand up for God’s righteousness, and incarnate its efficacy and benefits among the people [Psalms, 71, 1-2]= “O God, give to the king your rulership, and your justice, so that he can give the poor their rights.” In this vein, the Messiah is spoken of as the Divine King’s Son. Jesus Christ’s remark, ‘if you see me, the Son, then you have seen the Father’, does not seem very out of step with certain of David’s psalms.

None the less, the Messiah will arrive unheralded= “He will come down like rain on wool fleece, like the drop of dew falling on the earth” [Psalms, 71, 6]. Once here, he will dig in and never be removed= “He will continue as long as the sun, and beyond the moon, throughout all generations” [Psalms, 71, 5].

Moreover, Psalm 71 indicates the way in which the Messianic kingship — derived straight and unmediated from God’s kingship — differs from the run of the mill, corrupt, worldly political and business leaders who run things for their own advantage, and the advantage of their wealthy and privileged allies, to the disadvantage of the common people. Thus, the Messianic king will “do justice to the poor of thy people, and save the children of the needy, and humble the oppressor” [Psalms, 71, 4]; he “will deliver the poor from the tyrant, and he will deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight” [Psalms, 71, 12-14].

This is identical to Jeremiah who blasts the false king of his day= “But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practising oppression and violence” [Jeremiah, 22, 17]. A tyrant was never supported by Yahweh, simply on the basis that he was a king; any king false to his calling should be cast out of Jerusalem, according to Jeremiah. There is no European ‘divine right of kings’ in Jewish tradition. This applies, with equal venom, to false prophets who were the puppets of the power-lusting leaders of either the royal court or the ceremonial temple. Yahweh will not preserve either the monarchy or the priesthood, if they become ‘adulterous’= not faithful to God, and thus not faithfully serving humanity for God. The false prophets have ‘visions of their own mind’ not inspired by God, for they invariably falsely tell people “everything is all right” as it is, and invariably claim monarchy and temple will be preserved because they have the sanction of God. Where is the monarchy and the temple among the Jews today?

David calls the Messiah, in Psalm 44, the Warrior King, for it is evident that ‘wickedness in high places’ will not ‘go quietly.’ The Messianic kingship has human enemies who profit from injustice in society and the blighting of nature; they will resist. Hence= “O mighty warrior, ..draw your bow and prosper and reign in the cause of truth and modesty and justice.. Your arrows are sharp, O mighty warrior, in the heart of the king’s enemies” [Psalms, 71, 4-6]. God is addressed= “Your throne, O Yahweh, is forever and forever”, and then it switches to God’s Messiah= “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore God, your God, has annointed you..” [Psalms, 71, 7-8]. But, if the enemies of the Messianic kingship accept its arrows of truth shot into their hardened hearts as flames of compunction, then the burning becomes a purgation, and even the exponents of wickedness can be won over.

There is a beauty about the heart of the Messianic Warrior King not usually apparent in people= because of his love of justice and goodness, he knows a joy not ordinarily experienced. Such joy is the consequence of ‘fighting the good fight’, not evading it in some spurious ‘peace.’ There can be no peaceful coexistence with a world where injustice rules, a world where goodness is lacking.

Yet, the Messiah is not simply a powerful force for justice and righteousness, mercy and compassion, abundance spread to the four corners among all. “A man will come whose heart is deep” [Psalms, 63, 7]. The Messiah comes not to be exalted, nor as one who is exalted. He is not exalted as the ‘representative’ of God’s exaltedness. Paradoxically, God is exalted through the Messiah’s depth. This is ‘the secret hidden from the very beginning.’

His depth of heart empowers a different greatness.

David struggles with this depth, in God and in humanity, without fully understanding it. He lives it, he wrestles in its grip, he has no trite, pat answer= some formula that can be comfortingly and comfortably trotted out to dispel doubt, wonderment, hurt. David goes through a journey and battle in the deeps, in his own existence, as he wrestles with outer troubles and hardships and pains, and searches the truth of these events and the truth of his own life inescapably caught up in them. It is this that ‘leads’ him to the depth in the paradox and dynamic of the new divine-humanity.

3,

The ‘striking and mysterious figure’ of the Messiah looms up out of David’s hard times. This Messiah gets larger and larger, it says in the Introduction to the Septuagint, taking on more definite shape, as the Psalms go on. Paradox upon paradox piles up as he intrudes upon David’s awareness. Nothing systematic is presented; nothing is argued. The Messiah is painted in a varied way, as the Impressionists added dots upon dots. Only at the end is the whole picture more apparent.

[1] The Messiah is first mentioned in Psalm 2. God has initially laughed to derision the kings and rulers of the world who take their stand against Yahweh and his Messiah, and refuse to be yoked to them, but then God has turned on them in his fury [Psalms, 2, 2-5 ]. Finally, God will send his annointed king, who will “proclaim Yahweh’s decree.” The Messiah says, “Yahweh said to me, ‘You are my Son, whom I have begotten. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your sovereignty..’ And now, you kings, understand; all you rulers of the earth take warning.. Embrace correction and discipline, lest.. you perish through leaving the way of righteousness” [Psalms, 2, 7-12].

This announces the universal kingship of the Messiah, and grants to the Messiah the identity of being ‘begotten’ by God. The Christian creed echoes this in speaking of ‘the only begotten Son of God, begotten, not made.’ You make something outside yourself; you beget something from inside yourself. That the Messiah shares the very throne of God — the same mystery is revealed in the vision of Daniel – and therefore co-exercises a radical divine power, throws into doubt the often repeated claim that the Messiah is just ‘a good, or enlightened, man.’ If Jesus is the Christ, then he has to be, on David’s witness, something very different from, and much more than, a spiritually evolved example of humanity. It is interesting that in the Christian Bible, Jesus is called both ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’, and prefers the latter to the former, as if Sonship of divinity is taken for granted, and Sonship of humanity is the extraordinary step. He is chosen to step into our troubled waters, and to take on the hardest task in the human predicament.

Psalm 2 confirms the often reiterated claim that the Messianic king will chastise, and overthrow, the rulers of ‘dirty politics’ who conspire with each other to evade any ethical yoke that could keep their activities honest. The fury of God will be released on these amoral high ups, if they do not accept ‘correction.’ This psalm serves a warning on the false rulership of worldliness that their time is up. Since Satan the Accuser is prince of this world, the kingship of the Messiah declares that the world is not going to be meekly handed over to the Evil One. The Warrior King will fight the devil for the world. His Anger for Truth will not surrender the world process to the Lie that has always possessed it.

This Warrior King and his fight for the sake of the world, is also in 2 Kings, 22, and in 2 Samuel, 22.

[2] The human condition in the world, both personally and communally, is one of being in chains, held captive, oppressed, by evil forces working in evil men, especially powerful and wealthy men; in this context, redemption takes on the colouring of ‘deliverance’, like setting a prisoner free from jail. David constantly asks for deliverance= whatever his losses and pain now, one day the Redeemer will come, and then it will all change. Psalm 30 is called ‘a passion psalm’, and it is ‘for a time of trouble.’ In line 6, David cries to God the famous words Christ uttered as he died on the Cross, “into your hands I entrust my spirit” [these words are repeated in Luke, 23, 46]. The spirit given back to God, as we die, is our passion; and the next line, 7, states why we can entrust our passion to God= “for Thou hast redeemed me, God of truth.” The truth referred to is the truth of heart, depth, passion, between God and humanity; but only in the redeemed state can we fully trust this, and hence trust God in the death, the loss, of our passion. Even as our fire goes out, we die for God, in God. The connection between the Cross and Psalm 30, 6-7, is therefore saying more than is usually realised. A statement is being made about giving away our passion, when it is restored to God’s passion. In God’s passion, our passion knows no impediment. Even crucifixion cannot stop it from going all the way.

[3] The evil forces, spiritual in origin but at work in humans, have to be fought, without let up or compromise. Psalm 4, 5= “Be angry, yet do not sin” [also quoted by St Paul, Ephesians, 4, 26]. Psalm 10 is unequivocal about the need for a war in regard to what sort of heart, true or false, rules the affairs of humanity in the world= “For, the sinners bend their bow; they have arrows ready in the quiver to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. They destroy what you are building.. Yahweh tests the just and the godless; ..Upon sinners he will rain snares; fire and brimstone and a tempestuous wind will be the portion of their cup. For Yahweh is righteous and loves righteousness; his countenance beholds justice” [Psalms, 10, 2-7].

However much some Christians have distorted this fight into something it is not [a damnation of those who cannot accept Jesus is the Christ], there is no question that the Messiah, as the king and judge of the world’s heart, fights for the world to have a royal heart, and thus fights against the world having a venal heart. The Messianic Warrior King wields the Sword of Truth. But this truth, when it comes, is restorative, not punitive. God’s wrath has always been hopeful that things can be changed, that their slide into more and more evil can be halted and turned around. Thus the prophet stands close to the Messianic Warrior King in this fight, in that his warnings and announcements often paradoxically both aggressively blast the world, throwing it into crisis and bringing it to judgement, and creatively promise regeneration for the world.

Thus the ‘spiritual warfare’ is not just within each of us, but in fact is between all of us in the world. There can be no dismissing of the need to fight. There is only a question of how to fight= the fight against hell risks itself becoming hell. The fight must redeem, not destroy, the world. Thus Christ comes not to judge, or ultimately condemn, but to repair and redeem.

As a fighter for what heart rules the world, upright and divinely big or fallen and demonically shrivelled, the Messiah is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah” [Psalms, 22]. Yet once victory is won, the Messianic Warrior King enters into a wedding with his people, and a time of joy begins [Psalms, 44].

Thus, through the fight in the Daemonic, the marriage in Eros.

[4] The power active in the Messianic king is Daemonic. Its wrath upon wickedness, its anger for truth and against the lie, is likened in Psalm 17 to earthquake, smoke and fire, darkness, thunder, hail and lightning, a mighty storm. “In my distress I..cried to.. God. He heard my voice.. Then the earth rocked and quaked, and the mountains shook to their foundations and rocked.. because God was angry.. There went up a smoke in his wrath, and fire burst into flame at his presence. Coals were kindled by it. And he bowed the heavens and came down, and thick darkness was under his feet.. He swooped on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his hiding place.. Dark thunder clouds hung in the sky. ..there broke through the clouds hailstones and coals of fire. Then Yahweh thundered from heaven.. He shot his arrows and scattered the foes; he volleyed his lightnings and routed them” [Psalms, 17, 7-15]. This Daemonic downcoming is so powerful, the beds of oceans are exposed, and the foundations of the world are uncovered= in both soul and heart the basic truth is revealed, in a moment of truth. Without God, David confesses, his enemies would overwhelm him in “the day of my adversity” [Psalms, 17, 19].

The Septuagint describes the extraordinary symbolism of Daemonic deliverance of beleaguered humanity, beset on all sides by evil, as ‘a war-song of Christ the Warrior King’, fighting his way through a world given over to falsity, injustice and corruption, with the weapons of love and faith= the weapons of passion. Until his kingdom is won, he will have to go on fighting.

In Psalm 28 the blow of the Daemonic is described graphically and dramatically. God’s power “peals over the waters, ..thundering.” God’s voice “shatters cedars”; “bursts out in flashing lightning, ..whirls the sand of the desert, ..strips the forests bare.” God “inhabits the flood.” God will give this Daemonic power to his people, and only this fighting spirit will bring the real peace [Psalms, 28, 3; 5; 7-9; 10; 11].

But to fight the world for God, we must accept the wound of the Daemonic as it reduces us to ashes before, in its redeeming power, it remakes us. Thus David says= “For you, O God, have proved us; you have tried us as silver is tried [in a furnace of flame]. You did bring us into the trap; you did lay afflictions on our backs. ..We passed through fire and water, but you have brought us to revival” [Psalms, 65, 10-12].

David says to God= “But you see [the heart], for you behold pain and passion [or ‘trouble and anger’] that you may take them into your hands” [Psalms, 9, 35].

It is the Spirit who tests and proves the deep things of God and the deep things of humanity. This is not simply to purify us, as many religious people mistakenly claim. David’s terrible struggles in the deeps of the heart are the sufferings Jesus the Christ embraced and had to pass through to make redemption real.

The Psalms of David are the expression of the heart of the true human being.

The test, the trial, is of passion; which means it is the heart which will be proved of worth, it is the heart which will be acquitted of blame.

[5] Many other remarkable things are said about the Messiah in the Psalms. He ushers in many ontological shifts in the very nature of things, once the protracted redeeming of the world is complete. His reign will last forever, for his kingdom has no end.

Yet to become the Redeemer, and to redeem everything and everyone, the Messiah will have to go through terrible sufferings. He will be treated as an outcast, will be despised and spat on by men [especially those in seats of authority, secular and religious]; he will be thrown to men who have become crazed, like being among [enraged] bulls, [vain] lions, and [rabid] dogs. These men will strip him and pierce his hands and feet, and then will sneer and gloat over him [Psalm 21]. “Where is your God now?”, as David’s enemies say to him. None the less, when redemption is won, the kingly and warrior Messiah, flanked by prophet and priest, will come to claim his kingdom, and it will be an assembly of the entire world, where rich and poor stand together, and all will honour his supreme sacrifice, by granting him worship and partaking of a sacrificial meal [Psalms 21, 93, 95]. The Messiah, as John later says, is both king and lamb of sacrifice [John, 1, 36; 18, 37].

The main Messianic Psalms are arguably 2, 21, 44, 71, and 109. In Psalm 2, again we find words Christ cried on the Cross, just before he died. “O God, why have you forsaken me?” These words of Christ, echoing David, demonstrate the ultimate solidarity of the Messiah with our lostness [Mark, 15, 34; and Mathew, 27, 46]. This moment of final defeat for the human venture risked by God which David searingly experienced, and recorded in his deep song, is not magiced away or triumphed over by the Messiah; rather, the Messiah enters it, shares it, and only changes it from within the full impact of it upon him. Like us, he too is forsaken of God.

Thus Celtic Christianity=

‘Beautiful.. keeping company with a king.
The beauty of a hero who does not shun injury.

God proved himself our liberation by his suffering,
Terrible grief, God defended us when he took on flesh,
Through the Cross, blood stained, came deliverance to the world.’

[6] Near the end of the Psalter, in Psalm 117, a ‘processional song of praise for the great redemption’ is offered as a thanks. The Welsh Celts call this ‘gorfoleddu’, an ecstatic rejoicing, exuberance, exultant praise of the Creator who restores the world he has made. And St Blathmac’s term for Christ’s love for and faith in the human being is ‘kin-love.’ In Celtic, the Father is ‘God who sought me’, the Son is ‘God who bought me’, the Spirit is ‘God who changed me’– the God who searched and checked me out in the depths where all is lost, and where what is lost can be regained.

4,

On the plane back to England, after my grandmother’s funeral was completed and we held an Irish wake on what would have been her 103rd birthday [she died 8 days prior to it], I opened one of her books which I was taking home. On her bedside table she had a pile of books she would dip into. My mother offered these to me, but with one piece of hand luggage, I could carry only two of them. I chose one of Esther’s Rumi books, a collection of his poems, and a book by the Protestant existentialist theologian Paul Tillich. As I squirmed in the even smaller seats now offered to the peasants in economy, and realised I would not be able to sleep, I opened Tillich’s ‘The Shaking of the Foundations.’ It turned out to be a collection of sermons he gave at a seminary in New York, published in 1948. In these, he deals with the way in which the Daemonic God ‘shakes the foundations’ we take for granted, in order to overturn our flimsy security, and bring down our unrighteousness. In the terms of a dream I had in my 20s wherein I saw a Tower built over a Pit as the truth of America, God strikes the Tower and brings it crashing down, to reveal the Pit beneath and liberate those imprisoned there. There is a sermon in which Tillich takes on the existential theme that Judaism was the first religion to make primary in the spiritual life= ‘the depth of existence.’

“Depth is a dimension of space; yet at the same time it is a symbol for a spiritual quality” [p 52]. Tillich finds two meanings to depth. Both are relevant to the Psalms. Though it helps to differentiate them, they do not occupy separate compartments, but flow one into the other, in human experience.

[1] Deep is the converse of shallow.
[2] Deep is the converse of high.

[1] This refers to truth, and means that truth is deep and not shallow.
[2] This refers to suffering, and means that suffering is depth and not height.

At a conference discussing Bishop Anthony’s legacy, I pointed out that he always spoke of depth. He dealt neither in the height, nor in the surface. Like many notable Russians from the 19th Century, his focus was on the mysterious, strange, dark, troubling and troubled, deeps of life. My comment elicited two responses in the discussion.

The first response said ‘height and depth are the same.’ This is totally mistaken. Height and depth are different. Psalm 138 says that God is in all the differing places of the creation, and thus there is nowhere humans can go to escape him. Moreover, ‘ascent’ to the height is clearly marked out as contrasting with ‘descent’ to the depth. “Where can I go from your Spirit, and where can I escape from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I descend to hell, you are present” [verse 7-8]. Even if we go to the sunrise in the east or dwell in the farthest reaches of the sea, “even there your hand will guide me” [verse 9]. And if we were to believe that “surely darkness will hide me” [verse 11], it turns out God is there as well. Nowhere is without God, but that does not support confusing above with below, or sea with land, or day with night.

Clinging to the height in order to evade the depth is a common religious stance. Such a stance misunderstands the existential dimension which the God of the Jews insisted upon, and submitted himself to, as well as forcing upon us. This height stance comes in many forms, some mystical, some philosophical, some monastic, some simply ‘other worldly’ in a manner that is more than a little unhinged. Whilst Shamanism has a sense of depth — “Our pleasures are shallow, only our sorrows are deep” [Cheyenne Indians] — it is never the less fair to say that only Judaism has risked everything in God and in humanity, and in every other dimension, to depth. If depth fails, as it can do, all else is forfeit. This is radical, frightening and yet oddly wonderful. It also means there is no salvation through mind alone, through soul alone, or a combination of mind and soul. The heart must be involved. The heart is crucial. For the heart must be won to redemption.

The second response said ‘depth is the underlying’, as in a text where you plumb it for its core, or essential meaning, and do not get stuck on the mere surface meaning. This is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Psalm 138 also says, “You have created my heart, O Yahweh” [verse 13]. The heart is not simply the origin of affectional bonds. It is that in us which is deeply, and powerfully, affected by existence, for better and worse. Referring to depth only as the ‘undergirding structure of meaning’ is too rational, and is equally a manoeuvre designed to extract the real sting from depth. We speak of deeper meaning but leave out its insecurity; this meaning is in fact impassioned, full of striving and strife, pained and stricken.

Yet, it is a common secular stance not even to admit any depth at all, but to prefer to keep meaning entirely on the surface. Nothing deeper must ever intrude. So, we eat on the surface and this indulgence deadens us, but at least we can sleep through life relatively unroused. Our meanings are kept trivial, so we won’t have disturbing dreams in our life long slumber. Positivism, in philosophy and psychology, tries to eliminate the roots of meaning, by giving accounts of it that seek to define and confine all meaning to the surface. Yet existence itself, in its meaningfulness, constantly troubles us to wake up, and plunges us into depths where we cease to be in control or know what is what anymore. Victor Frankl, who learned what truth was, and what suffering was, in the concentration camp, said only three things have meaning in this life= human relationship [the I–Thou of Martin Buber]; suffering; action that serves vocation, calling, mission.

The truth that is lost in the depth by the heart’s betrayal of it, laziness in acting on it, fear of its consequences, and all other fallen motives, is only regained by suffering.

Thus heart truth and the heart’s depth are linked, in suffering. Even to go beneath the surface of things, in sense [1], is a suffering, though the suffering in sense [2] is far more profound, basic, searing.

Tracking Tillich is helpful..

[1] All things have a surface, says Tillich. Surface is that side to things “which first appears to us” [p 53]. This is what things ‘seem’ to be, without going into them further. And so we try to penetrate below the surface in order to uncover what things really are. Tillich adds, people have always been disappointed with the surfaces of things, and have sensed that the truth which does not disappoint dwells below in the depth. Consequently, people have always dug through one level after another.

This is especially so with other persons, where we get an impression on the surface, but if we do not pierce to a deeper level of their interiority, we become disappointed. The surface of people is soon exhausted. What we know about people has always got to be deepened, or our anticipations smother their capacity to surprise us.

Tillich is urging in sense [1] that the world itself, and everything sailing in its frail ship, has hidden depths. Getting to these is like peeling back layers of the onion, or descending through strata in the earth to get to more fundamental ‘ground.’ In all human endeavours some urge in the heart toward the ‘real’ truth beneath the surface drives us on, in our searching for it.

Tillich points out that getting to deeper levels of truth often causes earthquakes, or only comes about through earthquakes, at the shallow place where we try to ground ourselves, hoping for certainty, but invariably losing it. Persons and their cultural activities advance via these earth shaking moments.

Tillich says it takes ‘great and daring steps’ to leave the superficial in anyone, or anything, and approach “toward the deep things of our world” [p 54]. This challenges us to look harshly at our assumptions and expectations, and what we think we know. Descent is an earthquake in which these securities and certainties, with their spurious guarantee, are crushed to pieces. Similarly smashed are prejudices, opinions, narrow and ungenerous attitudes, prideful boasts of superiority, and much we cling to in order to buttress us, or raise us up. All this comes ‘down’, fragmenting into dust. When the Tower falls, all our identifications with its grand power are destroyed. The Pit that swallows us is more real.

Tillich sees in this collapsing the way of creativity, and the mark of genius. Humanity would stall without such times when the foundations shake. Jeremiah [4, 23-30] and Isaiah [54, 10; 24, 18-20] speak of times when ‘all is chaos’, when ‘the mountains are trembling’ and ‘the mountains will depart’, and ‘the earth will reel like a drunken man.’ Yet God declares to these prophets that his covenant, mercy, righteousness, and redemption, will not depart in such times. In reality, the ultimate things are more clearly revealed at such earth shattering moments.

But religious people are no different to secular people in living in cosy bubbles. Tillich rightly doubts that much of this “would be able to withstand a serious blow” [p 54].

Tillich also points out that even the deepest truths can seem to wear out, but this is “because there can be no depth without the way to depth” [p 55]. If we do not live truth, suffer truth, in the depth, but merely focus on some words or ideas that express it, then the latter cut off from the former inevitably become superficial, mere abstractions owned all too comfortably by the mind but no longer linked to the heart’s insecurity on the edge. Knowing the depth means confronting it, being affected by it, being caught up in its danger. To state depth, or to read statements on it, from the Bible, Dostoyevsky, Tillich, we must be in that place; to be in that place, we must find the path that goes there, and actually walk it, day in and day out.

“Look at the student who knows the content of the hundred most important books of world history, and yet whose spiritual life remains as shallow as it ever was, or perhaps becomes even more superficial” [p 55].

Even to ask, why do I do this?, what is the meaning of my life?, is to begin steps into depth. Questioning begins the journey.

But we often end up going round in circles. We are frantically busy and “never stop to plunge into the depth” [p 56]. We accept ourselves and others, and everything around us, as it appears, and do not care what any of it really is. In regard to ourselves, the nub of this evasion, it is only when our picture of ourselves breaks down completely, like a car that will no longer run, “that we are willing to look into a deeper level of our being” [p 56].

The spirituality of all religions that value the existential provides “a road to our depth” [p 56]. Tillich lists some of the things needed on that road. Confession, lonely self-scrutiny, external or internal catastrophes, prayer, and meditation, are among these. So too are all the horrendous struggles, outer and inner, evoked by brave and generous action. The journey of descent is described by Tillich in this way= the people who make it “have found that they were not what they believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their very lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth” [p 56].

Modern ‘depth psychology’ gets some distance down, but nothing like all the way down. Psychological damage to the child is certainly part of the underlying. But the more mysterious reality the Bible calls ‘sin’ is deeper, though these two combine and inter-weave in ways that have never adequately been unravelled. Deeper still is Hades, and Hell. Myths round the globe have provided a storied and rich account of underworlds, cavernous places, down in the earth where various adventures and battles occur. All this is found, and experienced, in descent. But many people do not descend at all, intimidated by the layer, or strata, where childhood damage dwells.

There is a deepest ground of our being, but it is an absence of solid ground. It is an abyss underneath all ground. At the outset a certain ambiguity about the abyss is penetratingly and painfully evident. The abyss is our moment of choice when we are left free by God, and therefore it can divide or unite our depth and the depth of God.

Ecclesiasticus, 15, 14-15= “Yahweh made humanity in the beginning, and then left him free to make his own decisions.”

Jose Ortega Y Gasset= “I am free by compulsion, whether I wish to be or not.. To be free means to be lacking in constitutive identity.. Man has no nature.” No nature, or constitutive identity, is found at the base of the heart= nothing more basic determines it. Hence Ortega Y Gasset adds= “Whether he be an original or a plagiarist, man is the novelist of himself.”

God is our risk. We are God’s risk. This is the abyss. Depth risks it all, yet only depth confirms it. That is the supreme and final Messianic paradox.

There is more to forging the divine and human relationship than merely giving a philosophical definition that rules out the ‘fear and trembling’, the ‘sickness unto death’, the profoundest revulsion and despair, in this deepest place.

Therefore it is necessary to dispute Tillich’s name for God as ‘the ground of all being and the depth of all life.’ This is not true, as well as true. The situation is more paradoxical, and hazardous, than Tillich describes it.

The abyss stands between the human heart and God’s heart. It can be the place of their uniting and indwelling, at the end of a dynamic process, but it starts initially, before that process knits the two depths together as one, as the place of awfulness and awe, because the abyss becomes the place where God is not, and as such depth takes on a colouring for us worse than any Pit or Hell; it becomes the place of endless falling, with no way to stand. Everything falls through, endlessly.

None the less, even if Tillich does not acknowledge the fear and wonder of the deepest level of God’s and humanity’s mutual risk, he is surely truthful when linking God with depth, and contending that God is inevitably involved, whether we are aware of and acknowledge this or not, whenever we touch upon the depth of meaning in life. In a different language, when our human passion is sincere, God’s passion is bound to it; passion is what Tillich calls “your ultimate concern, what you take seriously without any reservation” [p 57]. Tillich adds that many traditional images and understandings of God are not helpful, in blocking us from depth.

In the depth we lose the god of idols, of doctrines, of notions and words, to find the true God, the living God, the terrible God who is fighting fair to win his bet with Satan, in the Book of Job; for Satan wagers that God and humanity cannot come through, cannot plumb the ravine, cannot cross the gap.

Tillich is therefore not wrong to say, “..if you know that God means depth, you know much about him” [p 57]. And= “he who knows.. depth knows.. God” [ibid].

The un-named and non-imaginable God haunts the depth. This is why people avoid it.

Our depth and God’s depth are lived out in community, in the common life, in the risk of inter-action. The God of history is in the comings and goings, the encounters and the clashes, of people striving to live together. The Cross of Christ addresses the place where all roads inter-sect, for ill and for good. The abyss we feel in our own heart is met with, outwardly, as common to all humans. We descend personally, but we live the depth out communally. The ‘kingdom of God’ is corporate, not the-individual-on-his-own.

[2] Tillich affirms that “the depth of suffering.. is the door, the only door, to the depth of truth” [p 59]. “It is comfortable to live on the surface so long as it remains unshaken. It is painful to break away from it and descend into an unknown ground” [ibid]. “The pain of looking into one’s own depth is too intense for most people. They would rather return to the shaken and devastated surface of their former lives and thoughts” [ibid]. “The prophets of all time can tell us of the hating resistance which they provoke by their daring to uncover the depths of social judgement and social hope. And who can really bear the ultimate depth, the burning fire.., without saying with the prophet, Woe unto me! For I am undone. For my eyes have seen the Lord of Hosts” [p 60]?

Defences against the suffering that leads far into depth are many, and quite natural. Going deeper, like the suffering that provokes it, is forced upon us; it is not what we would choose. We accept it, but only after resistance, and much wrestling.

Some people say the depth is sophisticated, not for the uneducated. That is a joke! The educated, living in abstraction, happy with the egoic use of mind, are more resistant than ‘ordinary people’ who just take the blow, because they have no means of avoiding it. “..the mark of real depth is its simplicity. If you should say, ‘This is too profound for me, I cannot grasp it’, you are self-deceptive. For you ought to know that nothing of real importance is too profound for anyone. It is not because it is too profound, but rather because it is too uncomfortable, that you shy away from the truth” [p 60]. In fact, simplicity arrives only after going through hideous complications and complexities, immense doubts, hurtful sufferings and ravaging depletions. It sums them up, but in coming through to the other side, it answers them, deals truthfully and honestly with them. In finding the way through — not above, or around — it comes up with ground out of the abyss. Mountains are not mountains, everything is upside down and inside out, before mountains are mountains again.

Many people, and all too many Christians, do not go through the process of suffering in the depth. Thus whatever is said, or done, by those who have gone through it is of little use to them. ‘You gotta go through that lonesome valley yourself.’ We can be greatly encouraged by others in the valley. But if we are not in the valley ourselves, that encouragement cannot help us. We falsify its hope, by using the end-point others have reached as a pseudo guarantee for us, and so we don’t actually make any descent. We are saved all too fast– we are saved before we are lost. Such salvation is bogus. It does not stand up when the Daemonic wound inflicted by God bites. The ‘god’ we want must ‘save’ us from the deep place. The real God won’t do this.

Perhaps the biggest excuse for not descending, and the total misunderstanding of its necessity, is the traditional association of depth with the demonic. Evil spirits, devils and demons, live below the surface ground, lurking in dark passage-ways and dank caves. Hades and Hell are below, death and evil lurk underground.

There are two points about this. First, a piece of psychological reductionism is needed. Some — not all — of our lurid imaginings about devils and demons is just a projection of our own childhood damage into a mythological form. So, depression is a pit that is dead, paranoia is a burning hell, and so on. The Middle Ages portrayed angels and devils in a manner that suspiciously resembles nothing more than Freudian ‘super ego versus id’, or Object Relations ‘mental idealisation versus split off and throbbing emotional sores.’

Second, despite the confusion, there is a level beneath childhood damage where sin, evil, and death, take on a more spiritual meaning. That spiritual people have sometimes confused the childhood level with the place in the heart ground where evil spirits can work is undeniable; yet it is also the case that psychological people, including modern therapists, have confused the heart arena of ‘inner spiritual warfare’ with unresolved childhood problems. Either of these positions can be one sided, and reductive toward the other. Spirituality has not given enough respect to our damaged child, but psychology and therapy has not given enough respect to the ‘hidden man of the heart’ who has to fight invisible forces as part and parcel of prayer, and meditation, and all the rest of the things that facilitate descent.

Apart from early damage, there is a place in the heart where there are elements of more serious destructiveness and morbidity. Interestingly, the monastics of the Desert Tradition [400 AD] do not deny the existence and influence of evil spirits, but they spend much more focus and time grappling with their own inherent human motives which are fallen. These are the so called ‘fallen passions’ which distort, and indeed prevent, the true and singular passion from stepping up. There is a fight within passion, in short, necessary to release the arrow from the bow. The alternative is that the bow snaps and the arrow flops into the mud.

Passion is striving for the truth only forged in the pain of depth.

But the most important factor about the deeper suffering that leads to the deeper truth is that it puts us on a road of ‘reversal’, since ‘My ways are not your ways, My thoughts are not your thoughts.’ To draw nearer to God, the human must be reversed. Tillich puts it like this, “the road runs contrary to the way we formerly lived and thought” [p 61].

Tillich says this is why Isaiah praises Israel in the depths of its suffering; “and why Jesus calls those blessed who are in the depth of sorrow and persecution, of hunger and thirst, in.. body and spirit; and why He demands the loss of our lives for the sake of our lives” [p 62].

Tillich sums up= “The paradoxical language of religion reveals the way to the truth as a way to the depth, and therefore as a way of suffering and sacrifice” [p 62].

The final paradox is that out of suffering is finally born joy.

Tillich concludes= “The moment in which we reach the last depth of our lives is the moment in which we can experience the joy that has eternity within it, the hope that cannot be destroyed, and the truth on which life and death are built. For in the depth is truth; and in the depth is hope, and in the depth is joy” [p 63].

What does suffering kill off in us? Our attachment to the self.

What does sacrifice accomplish? Letting the self go into the world, redemptively.

The Way of Eros= fulfilment of self, wholeness of self.
The Way of the Daemonic= emptying of self, abnegation of self, giving away of self.

Which is closer to God?

The first is what God provides as a gift, but only the second is what God does, from the heart.