Jacques Ellul’s provocative book, The Humiliation of the Word is not likely to get too warm of a reception in the contemporary theological climate. Mainly because Ellul’s argument is a full-bore assault on the theological attraction to the visual. The specifics of Ellul’s argument is too complex for me to exposit just yet. Here, however is a quote from the book that raises some questions:
Jesus declares us happy if we did not know him according to the flesh, during his lifetime, in his reality, because he requires of us the absolute leap: the risk of faith that is the only guarantee that we love him. We are blessed if we did not see him resurrected, if we did not place our hands in the scars of his wounds, if the Resurrection remains outside that reality for us. This is so because he asks us to enter the folly of this Resurrection that can be only received by faith; it ceases to be folly if it can be verified. And we are always trying to rationalize it (by saying that the Resurrection is the Church, or the poor, etc.) in order to stop the scandal — that is, we always try to come back to sight. (p. 244)
While this is just one quote, Elull’s book as a whole raises some interesting questions about how we understand the theological significance of the visual. If we walk by faith and not by sight, how are we to understand the theological significance of the visual medium in our faith? What might this mean for the ever-popular quest for theologies of art today?