Rahner and Marion: a brief dialogue
It must always be borne in mind that for a really Christian doctrine of the relationship of the world to God, the autonomy of the creature does not grow in inverse but in direct proportion to the degree of the creature’s dependence on, and belonging to, God.
–Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations 5.1, p. 12
The intimacy of man with the divine grows with the gap that distinguishes them, far from diminishing it. The withdrawal of the divine would perhaps constitute its ultimate form of revelation.
–Jean-Luc Marion, The Idol and Distance, p. 80
Creaturely freedom increases with dependence on God. Communion grows with divine distance. Is this one thought or two? In both, the relation between God and creature comes to be characterized through an inversion of the term that is used to describe it. Moreover, the inverted result acquires a radical authenticity, which is attainable only through this inversion. If one depends entirely on God, what this actually means is freedom–and precisely freedom in the truest sense of the word, freedom which exposes all worldly alternatives, which seek independence from God, as shallow or derivative by comparison. Likewise, if one reveres the distance of God, what this actually allows is communion–and precisely communion of the loftiest sort, a mode of communion which outstrips every spiritual intimacy that has not paid the price of divine distance.
In addition to this formal likeness–which repeats the rhetorical strategy discernible in Saint Paul’s identification of true wisdom with the foolishness of the cross–one could also suggest that the freedom which Rahner associates with dependence on God is nothing other than the communion which Marion argues is available only in the midst of divine distance. These two theological statements would, then, not only exhibit a similar (Pauline) structure but would also say very similar things (and, moreover, things of a Pauline sort). For to depend on God is to rely on the God who withdraws, who is above or beyond all things, who–to use Marion’s language–is approachable only by way of distance, absence, danger. Likewise, the revelation, the intimacy, the communion with God that opens up within this distance seems to hold within itself the substance of the freedom of which Rahner speaks, insofar as this freedom is not merely the abstract ability to decide but the positive enjoyment of the divine life. ”Dependence” and “distance” both indicate the sometimes extreme difficulty of an earthly existence which seeks to be open to God. Paul would call this the foolishness of the cross. ”Freedom” and “communion” name the inestimable grace that awaits those who await it. To bear the cross in the hope of this grace–this, for Paul, is wisdom.
I have, of course, been overlooking many of the significant differences between these discourses. But at times it can be helpful to concentrate on some overlooked similarities.