A couple of things collided for me today: David Toole’s chapter on “Toward a Metaphysics of Tragedy” and today’s lectionary reading.

In Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo, Toole makes an argument for tragedy in light of the metaphysics of apocalyptic. I’m still working through the scope of his argument, but for now I keep bumping into the question: why tragedy and what role does it play within Christian theology?

Today’s lectionary reading covered Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones. This passage then reminded me of David Bentley Hart’s take on tragedy, of which the prophet Ezekiel plays a part. Hart is insistent that the Jewish and Christian vision is one that is adamantly opposed to tragic wisdom. So much so that to refuse tragedy is to “remain faithful to Israel’s cry for justice.” As Hart states:

“The resurrection, then, shows the way to no truth within us (existential, tragic, Dionysian, or what have you), but declares anew, with the newest inflection, the glory of God in the beauty of his creatures, and in such a way as to leave us no self-knowledge at all; our story has been interrupted, our tragic narrative of self-recovery overturned. Christ was raised, and so the cross (every cross) is shown to be meaningless in itself; God is not there, and goes there only as the one who violates its boundaries, who disrupts the ‘hypotaxis’ of the totality with the aneconomic ‘parataxis’ of the beautiful, the anarchy (but not chaos) of the infinite.”

Hart then goes on to conclude that,

“Theology is forbidden to extract any metaphysical comfort from the cross because the violence of the crucifixion must not be subjected to the sacrificial logic of speculation, as it is, say, in any ‘death of God’ theology (which recuperates the meaning of this death as the abolition of divine transcendence), or in any theology that makes of the cross a necessary moment for God, a taking into himself of suffering and death (which attributes to suffering and death a primordial autonomy, with which God is obliged to come to terms), because Easter unsettles every hermeneutics of death, every attempt to make death a place of meaning.”

According to Hart, the resurrection undoes tragedy and in its stead presents us with something that is at once more terrifying and hopeful:

“The doctrine of resurrection opens up another, still deeper kind of pain: it requires of faith something even more terrible than submission before the violence of being and acceptance of fate, and forbids faith the consolations of tragic wisdom; it places all hope and all consolation upon the insane expectation that what is lost will be given back, not as heroic wisdom (death has been robbed of its tragic beauty) but as the gift it always was. The finality of Christ’s death on the cross – which, left to itself, could be so soothing to us, in the somber glow of our wisdom and tragedy’s pathos – has been unceremoniously undone, and we are suddenly denied the consolations of pity and reverence, resignation and recognition, and are thrown out upon the turbid seas of boundless hope and boundless hunger… The satiety of tragic knowledge has been stolen from us; for God has shockingly overturned and inverted all the sober verities by which we measure the nature of the world, our common lot, and our place in the order of things” (The Beauty of the Infinite, 390-2).

Because of the resurrection and because of the hope of and for the resurrection of the dead, tragedy is robbed of its allure. Its consolations seem weak and vapid in the light of Easter.

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