Created for Hermeneutics–Part II

In my previous post I noted that the human condition circumscribes the hermeneutical task in at least two ways: (1) our finitude–we are limited, situated and always in process, and (2) our fallenness–we are narcissistic, egocentric interpreters. Consequently, the hermeneutical process must be soaked in humility and prayer (seeking transformation).

Drawing once again on Smith’s analysis in the Fall of Interpretation, I want to more deeply probe how the hermeneutical task is not only part of our created condition but also invested with divine purpose. We finite humans communicate through signs which represent our inner selves (our “interiorities”). Hermeneutics bridges the gap between our separated interiorities. Our deepest selves connect with each other through language (signs) spoken within time. Through signs and process (time), we grow in relationship with each other. 

The frustrating aspect of this process is that (1) the fullness of our souls is never fully present in the language we use–it is always partial and (2) given the fallen condition we are suspicious of each other in our communication. The first is not an evil but rather spurs us toward the divine goal of interdependent communion as we seek mutuality in relationships.  The second is the source of much misunderstanding because–knowing our own hearts–we are skeptical that others are honest and selfless in their communication.

There is no communion without communication. Thus, the hermeneutical task is at the root of God’s intent for humanity. He intends for us to commune with each other as well as with him, and thus communication is embedded in the very structure of the divine project. Interpretation–the understanding of language signs that represent our interiorities–is the mode of human bonding, and as we bond with each other (and with God!) we are engaged in the process of becoming and conforming to the divine goal for creation. The goal of hermeneutics is community.

Marriage is a good example of how hermeneutics either fosters bonding between two people or it destroys that bond.  Men and women communicate with each other toward the goal of oneness (communion).  Their diversity is a created good, and their diverse perspectives enrich each other.  When we use that diversity toward the experience of community (communion), it expands our experience of reality beyond the limitations of our own individual selves.  However, when that diversity is used to exploit, minimize, or rule the other, then community (communion) is decimated. The hermeneutical task in that context is a power struggle where the self dominates the other rather than enjoying the other as a co-participant in the process of becoming.

In our creatureliness, the hermeneutical task celebrates diversity because it enriches our individual experience of God’s created reality. God himself created diversity. A casual and momentary reflection on God’s creation impresses us with the diverse topography and species within the world.  God intended human diversity–male and female is about as diverse as we can get, but gender is not the only diversity.  The cultural mandate is to fill the earth and God intended humanity to inhabit the whole earth.  When humans live in Alaska, they do not eat, dress or work in the same ways that they do when they live in Kenya. Cultural diversity is divinely intended; uniformity is more about conformity than authentic community. Our God loves diversity.

The communicative bonding process we call hermeneutics creates space for this diversity in human relationships.  Finite humans know in part and when they speak, they speak only part of what they know. When they speak something of what they know, their speech is limited by the nature of language itself. These limitations, which belong to finitude, are the stuff out of which relationships are formed, grown and matured. It is a never-ending process. Community formation–and thus communion–is a process; it was created to be a process rather than a singular event or an eternal moment in time.

Rather than thinking of the process as one of futility (“we will never get to know anyone much less everyone” or “we will never come to agreement”), it is–on the contrary–one of discovery.  We discover the world (the joy of science, is it not?), others (forming new relationships and deepening the one’s we already have), and ourselves (Merton’s prayer:  “nor do I really know myself”).  We discover God through the process as God encounters us in the process. God is active in our journey: he pursues, illumines, strengthens, empowers, directs and delights. He is present as the initiator, the mover and the closer. He journeys with us–our hermeneutical companion and comforter.  (Did I say pneumatology?)

This journey continues into eternity. Our experience of the new heavens and new earth will not transcend hermeneutics.  We will still be finite upon the new earth; we will not become omniscient–we will not become God. Rather, we will still be engaged in the journey of becoming–growing in the depth of relationship with each other, forming new relationships (who do you want to know in the age to come?), and–most importantly–deepening our relationship with God.  God is an bottomless well out of which we will eternally drink.  That well will never run dry and it will be fresh every morning.  Our relationships on the new earth will not be tainted by the suspicions of fallenness and neither will they grow stale and tired since all things will become new, stay new and the journey will be ever refreshed by the presence of the One who is always new to us.

Hermeneutics is here to stay. God created us as hermeneutical beings and we will remain such even in the new heaven and new earth.  The hermeneutical journey is a journey into community, into communion with God and others. We were created for hermeneutics because we were, more fundamentally, created for community (as the lamented Stan Grenz entitled his book).

4 Responses to “Created for Hermeneutics–Part II”

  1.   markus z Says:

    sorry, im am behind in reading…
    comparing grenz (post-conservative) to smith (neo-calvinist: is that the same as radical orthodoxy?) it seems they would fall on two opposite ends on the hermeneutical spectrum. grenz would give the inner work of the spirit the dominant role (as in transformation over against information), whereas smith seems more heavily rely on information (as in language or text, over against a transcendent view), however unattainable absolute truth is for finite and sinful human beings. is this assessment true? maybe i will find more information on this in your posts above…

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I think it is a both/and, Markus. Grenz in his book on Postfoundationalism and Renewal also notes the givenness of creation as a boundary and the way texts functions as boundaries as well. But he also stresses the Spirit (illumination, for example, as well as transformation). Where the difference might lie between them, is that Smith stresses more firmly the pneumatological nature of living in creation itself, that is, the Spirit is an active agent in all hermeneutical processes and not just in reading the text of Scripture. Smith is quite transcendent in his approach, but also stresses immanence. I think there is a balance and overlap between Grenz and Smith on these points but with different emphases. For example, John Franke–co-author with Grenz–is another example of one who is relatively close to NeoCalvinsm (Franke is Reformed to be sure, but not exactly the kind of Toronto kind of NeoCalvinist).

  3.   rich constant Says:

    thanks again john mark
    this is so good for me

  4.   Eric Greer Says:

    “…The cultural mandate is to fill the earth and God intended humanity to inhabit the whole earth. When humans live in Alaska, they do not eat, dress or work in the same ways that they do when they live in Kenya. Cultural diversity is divinely intended; uniformity is more about conformity than authentic community. Our God loves diversity…”

    I understand the fundamental points you are making but could you also say that the narratives about the curse on the earth (Gen. 3:17) and Babel (Gen. 11) suggest things became somewhat more diverse because of sin? I think the fundamental point is not so much that God loves diversity (though it is clear He does) but that He loves. Intimacy seems to be the goal more than diversity.

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