Evan Rosa: For theLife of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
Miroslav Volf: If the goal of God in creating the world is to make it home of God and humans together, then it is the intention of God to make this place as beautiful and as humane, as hospitable to human life as it can possibly be. If that's the case, then my attachment to God will be attachment to what God intends, and if what God intends is the home, world as a home of God and human home, then I will be motivated - just because I believe in God and embrace God - to make this place and life in this world truly worth living a flourishing life.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity. I'm Evan Rosa with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
It's funny how certain things hide in plain sight. Maybe their familiarity, maybe their intimacy, or perhaps their sheer necessity somehow blinds us to something as clear as day. And here I'm remembering that banal little parable-ish story joke David Foster Wallace uses to hook you in in his rightfully famous and beloved 2005 commencement speech, "This is Water."
David Foster Wallace:There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says, "Morning boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "what the hell is water?"
Evan Rosa: And he quickly goes on to explain the point.
David Foster Wallace:The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.
Evan Rosa: For me, home is one of those things. When Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz started talking about writing a book on home, I think a part of me reacted like the young fish with a, "what the hell is home?" But what's emerged from these years of conversations trying to talk about and see and understand the human and divine making of home is their latest book, The Home of God. A Brief Story of Everything, which came out from Brazos Press in September. And today in the show, Miroslav Volf breaks down why the project matters so much to him and shares some of the more surprising and interesting insights he learned during the process.
But before all that, it's important to all of us at the YaleCenter for Faith and Culture to share a brief memorial and eulogy for a friend.Book dedications are yet another one of those things that seem to hide in plain sight, often too easy to overlook, flip right over, skip right past. But every book dedication has a long story; it's difficult to see, difficult to talk about. Miroslav and Ryan dedicated the home of God to Phil and Patty Love, two special friends who embodied in their lives and relationships what home really means. Last week, Phil Love died after a long struggle with a painful and debilitating neurological disease.
Here's Miroslav with a few words for our dear friend, Phil.
Miroslav Volf: I first met Phil, I think it was 10th anniversary of 9/11. I was giving a lecture at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He and Patty took me out for lunch, and we immediately connected. Phil was a businessman who had a successful career, and then in the second stage of his life, started studying theology. And one of his heroes became Jürgen Moltmann. Jürgen Moltmann is my own doctoral supervisor and friend, but Phil's knowledge of Jürgen's work and especially, I think, Jürgen's life was such that I couldn't compete with Phil. He knew stuff about Jürgen that I did not know, and that's how our friendship started. But it quickly became apparent to me what an extraordinary human being. Phil's quirky humor took me immediately in his love of Jesus and love of life at the same time were to me extraordinary, and you couldn't quite tell whether he loved Jesus because he loved life, or he loved life because he lovedJesus. And then also his extraordinary delight in people. And I think what everyone who knows him will remember of him is his prodigious generosity.
Because I realized how extraordinary the two of them are, I invited both Phil and Patty to become board members of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. At one point, he became Associate Director and also a Chair of the Board, and I don't think there has been anybody who worked at the Center in its 20-year long history who was as loved, as appreciated as was Phil Love.
Now, in recent years, he suffered from debilitating illness, so much so that he became a prisoner in his own body, virtually unable to communicate with outside world. And yet even in such dire circumstances, you could tell that he continued to love life. And I remember, as he knew that he was going into illness, he was telling me how he feels at peace where he is and where the illness might take him. There was a kind of surrender to God of life who is also God of our life when that life ends up being- and in years as his life was diminishing, Ryan and I were working on a book, The Home of God, and as we were thinking about what we were doing and writing, this idea thatGod wants to make home out of this world, and we ought to live our lives through our lives in the world as we are on the way to God's final home, it occurred to us that there are very few people - there is nobody who we could think - that exemplifies this life on the way to the home of God as well as Phil and Patty do. Theirs was a life of joy, but theirs was a life also of the acceptance of life's frailty and life's sorrow. Theirs was a life of hospitality and of generosity - kinds of relations to one another that make up a good home was what they exemplified.
And so they, for us, became a symbol of that which we are trying to articulate by narrating this large story of God's purpose with creation to make the world into a place where God dwells and when we dwell at home with one another. Phil Love passed away on October 14 this year. He was surrounded by friends and family, and my deep wish is what I know is his present reality, and that is that the face of God would shine on him eternal.
Evan Rosa: Thanks for listening, friends, Miroslav now continues with why he wanted to write TheHome of God.
Miroslav Volf: So we find ourselves in a moment of rupture today; we see it in political domain, we see it in economic domain, we see it in the way nature behaves, we see it in our own interior lives, and I think in such moments, we need to step back - or even, we are forced to step back - and to ask, what is the vision of our own life in the world, our vision of the world, which can guide us as we think about the future, the vision that corresponds to God's vision for the world. I was recently reading in Noema Magazine, and the editor of the magazine there writes, "as the poet Archibald MacLeish understood, a world ends when it's metaphor has died. At the moment of such rupture, a new space opens up in place of the shattered status quo. Illusions about old order vanish, making way for what has been incubating to emerge. Above all, a rupture demands choices about the foundations of the future." Now when one thinks about the future of the world - and if one thinks biblically, as I'm inclined to think - one will then turn to visions of the future that one finds in biblical text, and one such vision at the very end contains one incredibly powerful metaphor that can be a guiding light for the future that is coming to us - indeed, that is a promise that is coming to us - and that metaphor is: the home of God. In the Book of Revelation, we read John, the seer, looks into the future and he sees, "behold, the home of God." Now that really motivates the whole project, both the problem and also the solution, or the vision, as has been portrayed in biblical text. In many ways, this is a book that I was waiting to and being prepared most of my life to write, and it's not a self-standing book; it is a part of a series, and the series of books is meant to sketch kind of a big picture of a life in the world as we have it portrayed in biblical tradition as a Christian faith has embraced. And so, now I'm 65, at the end of fairly long career - I've been at Yale 25 years - I find that it's maybe time to pull different pieces of my work together and focus it into this kind of vision of a world as God intends it to be. And this book is one in the series of such books and is meant to think about, how does one get from the way in which the world is as we experience it today to what God intends for that world. Traditionally that's called the theology of salvation, of redemption, uh, eschatology, but we have described it in biblical terms as a story of God with God's people, coming of God, coming of Christ into the world in order to make the world what God ultimately intended the world to be. We often ask ourselves, "well, what is home?" Is there actually, when you start to think about it, such a thing as home? Or are homes always kind of subverted, so to speak, from within in their experience? And home brings to fore both that which is beautiful, that for which we- that has been inscribed in us by the love of those who have received us in the world and which lives in us as a vision, and also it is a site of wounds which life has inflicted, and therefore also something we fear and something we dread. And it's precisely this tension between the beauty of the vision and the deep failures that betray that vision of which the home is the site. And I'm interested in home because it then can become a metaphor of each of our lives, which is beautiful as well as broken, and the journey from the brokenness into beauty. And the same can be said for our cities, for our nations, and for our world as a whole.
One of the most interesting things to me about home is that almost the entirety of our lives are squeezed in the small place of home and lived there; we can see that when the newborn comes into the world. The nurture comes from there. The social interaction comes from there. The material circumstances economy is there. Kind of the politics of negotiating relationships is all there already in this small space that is home. And in that way, home is both something that I experience as a person that is in me and which nurtures me as a person, but home is also about the relationship between people. Home is also about my relationship to material things, to creation of those material things, the preservation of those material things.It's about negotiation of the relationships. The entirety of the human life, in miniature, is expressed in the experience of home. If we want to think about the world and our experience, if we want to think about the vision that God has for the entirety of the world, which sometimes is expressed in terms of theKingdom of God, I can see no better way to express this than this very intimate metaphor of home that cuts across all the domains of life, and I think that all of us have some significant experience with. So one of the important motivations for the book is the frequent critique of the Christian faith. Not just Christian faith, but also other religious perspectives, but certainly Christian faith, that the attachment to God somehow devalues, empties of meaning, our experience of ordinary world and ordinary life. And the way the argument goes is something like this: God is the ultimate value. Therefore, our whole attention should be devoted to God, and therefore we will then tend to forget to attend, to enhance, to make beautiful, to make better the world in which we live.
But now, think about it this way. If the goal of God in creating the world is to make it home of God and humans together, then it is the intention of God to make this place as beautiful and as humane, as hospitable to human life as it can possibly be. If that's the case, then my attachment to God will be attachment to what God intends, and if what God intends is the home, world as a home of God and human home, then I will be motivated - just because I believe in God and embrace God - to make this place and life in this world truly worth living a flourishing life. And the book starts with God's revelation to Moses in the burning bush. This is on the mountain of God; Moses encounters God and in the experience of the bush, the whole mission of Moses to take the children of Israel out Egypt begins and that beginning is the beginning of the story of salvation of- obviously it starts with call ofAbraham, a new beginning from which everything else flows of which we are inheritance, and which I have figured out that where the story ends is also on the mountain of God, and there's also the flame of God on that very mountain, but now, it's no longer a bush. Now, where the flame of God is, is the whole planetary city of the new Jerusalem, which is a flame by the fire of God, by the presence of God, and therefore made fully lively in its liveliness, in its life.
When you think about new Jerusalem, you see there a rich, luscious, beautiful life, and that's what's being made possible by the presence of God. So I really like this idea, the burning bush at the very beginning where God is present to lead the people out of their slavery in Egypt finally ending with this planetary burning bush of God which is the life that truly is life.
I think one extraordinary thing that is so clear in the end of the book of Revelation - both in the kind of negative image of Babylon, as well as the positive image of the new Jerusalem, in this contrast it's particularly clear, in fact - and that is, that the rule of God is a shared rule. All humans in the new Jerusalem participate in the rule of God. They are, as the promise was already in Exodus, priestly kingdom, right? So they are kings and queens. They're all royalty. That is in such sharp contrast in which we tend to think about rule. A rule is something exclusive. I want to strive in order to be better than somebody else, in order to put the other person down.
Here, the character of God's rule is that it's being shared with everyone, and that seems to me to have a very significant political implications. Often we think also and associate, and especially in today's time, we had- there are tendencies to think of Christian political engagement in terms of, in Protestant circles, dominion, uh, theology, Catholic circles in terms of integralism. Which is to say that somehow, the church should be the guiding force of the state, and state should be a helpmate of the church to realize God's vision in the world that ends up being translated in very much authoritarian way in which so-called rule, God is imposed in the world. The vision of the new Jerusalem could not be more different or opposite than that, and it aligns very well with the character of the rule of God as Jesus in the Gospels portrayed, which is to say, the one who wants to be the greatest among you, let that one be a servant, and the Son of God has not come to be served, but in fact to serve, which is to say, rule- his rule is manifest as service, is therefore a kind of shared rule in which one participates by doing exactly what Jesus did.
Evan Rosa: For theLife of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologian Miroslav Volf. Special thanks to Patty and Phil Love. I'm Evan Rosa, and I edit and produce the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
New episodes drop every Saturday, sometimes midweek. If you're new to the show, welcome friend. Hit "Subscribe" in your favorite podcast listening app, and we'd love your feedback. Ratings and reviews inApple Podcasts are particularly helpful, but we're just as happy to hear from you by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
We read each comment and do our best to respond and improve the show, bringing you the people and topics that you want to hear. And if you're a regular listener, it's a huge honor that you stick with us from week to week.So I'll ask you to step up and join us. Help us share the show. Behind those three dots in your podcast app, there's an option to share this episode by text or email or social media. If you took a brief moment to send your favorite episode to a friend or share with the world, not only would you be supporting the show, you'd be sparking up a great conversation around stuff that matters with people that matter.
Thanks for listening today, friends. We'll be back with more this coming week.