Localizing the Divine

Over the past few months, I've been wrestling with the concept of "localizing the divine." Some theologians, I'm thinking of Paul Tillich in particular, have been careful to avoid any univocal connection between the divine (that's God) and and the experience through which the divine may be revealed, careful not to localize or "limit" God in or to any particular experience. I once heard an illustration of this point: a surfer may experience the divine out on the waves, but they'd be mistaken to then assume that the waves are the only location at which someone can discover God. They'd be wrong to localize the divine in the waves. Likewise, if someone experiences God in a church, they'd be wrong to then assume that God only lives in the church. Because, for Tillich, God is "unconditioned" by existence or by any conditioned object, God cannot be univocally correspondent any such object. God is not an object... "God is not in the wind."

These avoidances of the localization of the divine are appropriate, but is there ever a place in which it is inappropriate to avoid localization? Is there no particular location at which the divine is particularly and univocally present?

Tillich, and others like him, are so careful not to localize God, that they refuse to localize God in Jesus. There are ways, of course, in which this is appropriate. Feminist theologians remind us that the relationship between God and Jesus cannot be such that God is localized in the male figure. God is not a man. This is true. So however we talk about God in Jesus, we have to be sure not to walk away with the assumption that the penis is more divine than the vagina. Similarly, we cannot localize God in Jesus' whiteness. God is not white. God is as black as God is white just as God is as female as God is male. But I do not think that we are then restricted, altogether, from what's often called "the scandal of particularity." 

In Jesus, humanity is taken into the life and being of God. If the experiences of the man, Jesus, are not authentically and particularly the experiences of God, the Son, then I'm not sure what we can make of the cross. The difficulty of this question is perhaps a signal of the latent docetism which has existed in Western Christianity from its origin. We want to avoid the cross for what it is... an authentically human and particular experience (indeed, a horrific one). So we locate it in ambiguity, speaking abstractly about atonement and justification as though the cross is a heavenly and ethereal event... The broken humanity of Jesus Christ is traded for a pristine and collected deity, suffering a justified death for the sake of justification. 

And perhaps Tillich goes the other direction. Perhaps for Tillich, Jesus only appears to be divine (or doesn't even really appear so). So the cross becomes the ultimate example of "New Being" in the midst of the nightmare of existence, the example of what it looks like to hold it together, to keep the "ontological polarities" of human being from unraveling. Again, Jesus dies a pristine death, but God is hardly to be localized in Jesus' experience... the death of Jesus can only be symbolically described as the experience of God... God is never actually crucified in Tillich's theology. The scandal of particularity is too scandalous to be accepted by Tillich, so the cross becomes a symbol and the humanity of the situation is kept away from the actual life and being of God... God remains unconditioned. 

Now, Tillich's  theology is far too complex to be pinned down by my critique, but my hesitation with an unconditionable God, is that I'm not sure that's how community and communion with God necessarily works. Has not God chosen to be conditioned? Did not God, in creating the world, choose to be creator? Did not God choose to be ontollogically identified by God's relationship to that which is conditioned by Godself? So I am hesitant, even if Tillich is using the term differently, to adopt "unconditioned" as an appropriate adjective for God. 

The only way I can make the cross make sense in my tiny brain is to speak of the experience of Jesus as the experience of God... not symbollically, but univocally so. I am afraid that unless I localize the divine in Jesus, the man from Nazareth, I cannot speak authentically of death being taken into the life and being of God. And since I am convinced that Gregory of Naziansus was right when he said, “what has not been assumed [into the life and being of God] has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .” I cannot seem to make sense of death's defeat without localizing God on the cross of Jesus Christ.

"He dies, but he makes alive, and by his death he destroys death." -Gregory of Naziansus

The bugs are surely not totally worked out... the feminist and black critiques are still speaking into the conversation, but perhaps it's more helpful to speak of the experience of Jesus as the experience of God, to start there, than it is to begin with the divine (conceptually) and then avoid its localization in the concrete. Once the experience of Jesus is scandalized and specified as the experience of God, then no human experience is to be limited, not even death and crucifixion, from the experience of God.