I concluded the last devotion I wrote with these words Joseph Drexler-Dreis’s Decolonial
Love, “Decolonizing is thus a fundamentally different project than ‘opening’ particular disciplines or ‘diversifying’ Western thought systems; the goal in projects of decolonization is to transcend Western thought systems. This requires a different eschatological imagination.” I was wondering what a new thought system might look like when I came across Paget Henry’s book, Caliban’s Reason.
In it he writes, “With the continuing production of new forms of poverty, new forms of liminal othering, spiritual and ecological crises of major proportions, it looks more and more as though the project of Western humanity is founded on the blind pursuit of a bad infinity. In the words of Adorno, it is “self-assertion gone wild.”…Foucault sees the reassembling of the mythic forces that will contain this pursuit and correct its hubris.”
Henry’s book is an attempt to ask why, even in the works of Caribbean thinkers and activists, are African and Indigenous ways of knowing downplayed or ignored? Why do non-Western pursuits still base their thought in a Western reason that is responsible for so much (neo-)colonial destruction and racist othering? Henry, too, recommends a “different eschatological imagination,” a “return of the gods” that will change the way we look at the world and at one another.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Psalm 82 and its vision of the Most High in the divine council, in the midst of “the gods.” We learn that they are “children of the Most High” and they are failing miserably in the task that the Most High has given them to do; judging unjustly and showing partiality to the wicked rather than giving “justice to the weak and the orphan” and maintaining “the right of the lowly and the destitute.”
The story goes like this: as humanity was growing in its hubris, striving to make a name for themselves (self-assertion gone wild!), the Most High saw fit to scatter them abroad, “Come let us go down and confuse their language.” So, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 says that the “when the Most High apportioned the nations,” God did so “according to the number of the gods.” (NRSV; your Bible might say ‘sons of Israel’ but that doesn’t make sense). The Most High, the Lord, “fixed the boundaries of the peoples,” took Israel for his own, and delegated the nations to the gods, the “children of the Most High.” Sadly, these gods lead humanity astray and the prophets see how “all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god” (Micah 4:4).
I believe that Luke has all of this in mind as he tells the story of Jesus’s birth, putting in the angel’s mouth this announcement: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” For Luke, the Most High “made all the nations…allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the place where they would live” (Acts 17:26). But, there was an underlying desire here: that these same nations “would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (Acts 17:27), fulfilling the words of the prophets that “many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… he shall judge between many peoples…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’” (Micah 4:2-3). For Luke, the Most High has “fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).
Acknowledging the presence of “the gods” is a “different eschatological imagination” for many people (and an uncomfortable one). But, here’s the difference it makes: it reveals to us that each ethnic/national identity, every people, that is trying to assert itself cannot claim to be serving Christ. What sets the Most High apart from the gods, what makes the Lord “God of gods” is a fervent desire to “execute justice from the orphan and the widow, who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” (Deut. 10:17-18). What makes Jesus unique among the “children of the Most High” is not a self-focused assertion, but an other-focused compassion that brings “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And, when Christ returns to judge in righteousness and the nations are gathered before him, the criteria for judgment is clear: rescue the weak and the needy (the “least of these”?); deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:4)
The history of colonialism is a history of one ethnic/national group seeking to assert itself over and against another; nation lifting up sword against nation. It is a history of “self-assertion gone wild” as Western European peoples sought to make a name for themselves, trampling over land and people, claiming them all as property. Western theology asserted a singular sovereignty to justify their exploitation. This history of dehumanization and destructive extraction was carried out in the name of Christ, but a different eschatological imagination leaves us wondering if all the peoples were actually walking in the name of their own god. Still today our (neo-)colonial hubris leads us in a “blind pursuit of a bad infinity.” Simply put, a decolonization that transcends Western thought will lead us away from a self-focused assertion and toward an other-focused compassion. We know that we will have found the Most High, that our search will be complete, that we will have become children of the Most High, when we are found to love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). Then, and only then, will we be walking in the name of the Lord our God.
Let’s pray for a more transcendent Advent this season: Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! – Psalm 82:8
Rev. Peter TeWinkle is a pastor for Oakdale Park Church (CRC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. He is also a partner and a parent who is inspired by the prophets and is studying what it means to decolonize Reformed Christianity at Claremont School of Theology