Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Prometheus and Christ (From Thomas Merton's "Raids on the Unspeakable")

The small gods men have made for themselves are jealous fathers, only a little greater than their sons, only a little stronger, only a little wiser. Immortal fathers, afraid of their mortal children, they are unjustly protected by a too fortunate immortality. To fight with them requires at once heroism and despair.

The man who does not know the Living God is condemned by his own gods, to this despair: because, knowing that he has made his own gods, he cannot help hoping that he will be able to overthrow them. Alas, he realizes too late that he has made them immortal. They must eventually devour him.

The Promethean instinct is as deep as man’s weakness: that is to say, it is almost infinite. Promethean despair is the cry that rises out of the abyss of man’s nothingness—the inarticulate terror man cannot face, the terror of having to be someone, of having to be himself.

The fire Prometheus thought he had to steal from the gods is his own identity in God, the affirmation and vindication of his own being as a sanctified creature in the image of God. The fire Prometheus had to steal was his own spiritual freedom. In his own eyes therefore, to be himself was to be guilty. Guilt was the precious gift of the false gods to him.

Not knowing that fire was his for the asking, a gift of the true God, the Living God, not knowing that fire was something God did not need for Himself (since he had made it expressly for man), Prometheus felt he was obliged to steal what he could not do without. Why? Because he knew no god that would be willing to give it to him for nothing. He could conceive of no such god.

No one was ever less like Prometheus than Christ on his cross. For Prometheus thought he had to ascend into heaven to steal what God had already decreed to give him. But Christ, who had in Himself all the riches of God and all the poverty of Prometheus, came down with the fire Prometheus needed, hidden in His Heart. And He had Himself put to death in order to show him that in reality God cannot seek to keep anything good to Himself alone.

Far from killing the man who seeks the divine fire, the Living God will Himself pass through death in order that man may have what is destined for Him.

If Christ has died and risen from the dead for us, why do we continue to see ourselves defeated and in despair?

Because we think our life is important to ourselves alone, and do not know that our life is more important to the Living God than it is to our own selves.

Because we think our happiness is for ourselves alone, and do not realize that is also His happiness.

Because we think our sorrows are for ourselves alone, and do not believe that they are much more than that: they are His sorrows.

There is nothing we can steal from God at all, because before we even think of stealing it, it has already been given.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)