Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.
It is hard to let go of the past. Even when it was flawed, we tend to whitewash it, to avoid admitting our mistakes. It is hard to change our mind (metanoia), and the more people shout at us to do so the more entrenched we become.
But circumstances change. What was right yesterday may not be best for today. We can always say ‘I am sorry’ and let go, but the left hemisphere of the brain finds this hard to do because it constructed all the good reasons for previously-held opinions. It enjoys fixity. (I won’t make a comparison with Brexit). But even when we do admit that a new approach is called for, we are not condemning ourselves for past mistakes: we did the best we could with the information at hand at the time. The right hemisphere of the brain is in the flow of reality and finds it easier to accept change. Only then can we make peace with the past and see the best of it, the law and prophets, carried over into the new.
Even gods, like the cultures they once supported, change and die. Today we live in the twilight of the old gods. They depended on their devotees to keep them alive with the offerings of petition and sacrifice. When the devotees stop believing the gods wither on the vine. Even the mighty gods of Olympus were downgraded. Before they die, they become local, vestiges of nostalgia or objects of amusement for the new generation.
But we cannot live without gods. (Even the atheist has to deal with them.) We need the symbols and charms they provide to express hopes and needs that we cannot put into words. The change of the pantheon of gods, however, is a time of loss and crisis such as we are going through now in Christianity and other religions. The new gods are worshipped on screens from Hollywood and Bollywood, in the temples of shopping malls, trading rooms and newsrooms. There are gods of misinformation and division (and some good new ones). Some old gods try to re-invent themselves and become relevant while others just fade and disappear. Consensus – the certainty that the old gods gave – is eroded and replaced by conflict and controversy until something new is born.
This is why the desert and our forty days there, or our twenty minutes there twice a day, are so liberating. There are no gods, dead or alive, in the desert, no temples except the heart, no sacrifices except our attention. There are, of course, our inner demons and a few necessary angels. Without gods, all that is left is the God who is, but has no name: the ‘religionless Christianity’ that Dietrich Bonhoeffer caught a glimpse of through the wreckage of the old order?