I finished the book God without Being by Jean-Luc Marion. Marion is a
professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, whose book is
also published by University of Chicago Press. The book is translated
out of French, which is Marion’s first language. Without a doubt this
book is one of the most dense and obscure books I have ever read. Part
of this, I think, is due to the process of translation but also to the
topic, and of course the author.
Marion is questioning the the standard view of assigning “God” with
“Being” as the most fundamental reality: i.e. at base “God” is first and
foremost a being. While this may seem axiomatic, Marion
demonstrates (successfully I believe) that this assumption is imposed
from our perspective as beings, from the view of one who exists in the realm of “being”.
The beginning of his book is dedicated to considering the role of an idol that captures our
gaze (or conceptual idols that metaphorically accomplish the
same). An idol brings a cessation of our gazing: we cease to scan
the horizon for we have found that which we believe is worthy of our gaze.
But in reality, the idol is an
invisible mirror through which we gaze back at ourselves. Consequently,
from the place of “being” looking outward we are only able to see our own type existence
even in what we assign as deity.
This is contrasted with the icon in whose gaze we exist.
The point in this contrast is that the reality of God, who he is, has almost nothing to do with what we assign, understand or see of God in our gazing, he is outside of our definition.
The identity of God is more appropriately located in God’s
gazing upon us. Marion deals at length with the
metaphysical thought of Heidegger and others whose metaphysics have
contributed to what we understand in our gazing upon God. Marion’s
perspective is to fundamentally see God better viewed as “agape” (αγαπη),
a Greek noun translated as “love” in the New Testament. God
is defined by love, a description which exceeds our definitive understanding. 1 John 4:8 says that
God is love, and Marion examines this in depth.
Marion deals with the words of the preacher (Qoheleth) in
Ecclesiastes and many passages in the New Testament texts, which he uses convincingly
to demonstrate the limit of our perspective and the distance between
our view, that of vanity and God’s view of charity. In understanding
God by the undefinable agape, Marion replaces the egocentric
god defined by being. Ultimately Marion locates this view of God in Eucharist event.
God is the God who gives himself lovingly in the bread and the wine, in
Eucharistic presence. However this is not some repackaged doctrine of
transubstantiation or real presence but captures a view of Eucharistic
presence that is fresh and powerful.
This book might take you a year to work through it, but the insights
mined from its obscure, dense and deep pages will be worth the effort and potentially transformative to your theological perspective. My theology and my epistemology have been irrevocably changed.
I highly recommend this book and will return to it again several times
more in the future.