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God, The Great Deconstructionist

We Christians too quickly dismiss the skeptics.  They actually can give us some help theologically and spiritually.  Jacques Derrida and the philosophical literary movement of deconstructionism is an example.

Derrida (1930-2004) was a French literary critic.  He was an atheist who denied what we Christians would call ultimate truth.  In his essay “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” Derrida claims that all human communication, language and thought, what he calls “discourse,” is the result of bricolage.  By “bricolage” he means borrowing our ideas from a heritage or tradition.

Therefore, all human discourse cannot escape being merely human.  In a thinly veiled reference to God, Derrida says that only an engineer who constructs the totality of his discourse out of nothing could escape this human limitation.  He would have to be the absolute origin of his own discourse.  Derrida states that the engineer is a myth.

Since there is no God, any claim to absolute truth in human discourse is denied and must be deconstructed.  Deconstruction is the action of exposing the lie that human discourse is based upon some ultimate reality that escapes from dependence on traditions.

In addition, deconstructionism does not allow any discourse to have a privileged position over others since all come from human traditions.  In this way Derrida believes that he avoids the totalitarian nature of human claims to absolute truth.  Deconstruction does not only undercut totalitarian oppression.  By helping us see our limits, we are freed to play with the varied and often contradictory meanings of human discourse and also human existence as a whole.

As a Christian, I believe that Derrida’s skepticism leads him astray.  Nevertheless, such skepticism about human discourse can have a salutary effect upon us.  As sinners, we often construct an image of ourselves which not only allows us to look down on others but even makes us believe that we have some claim on God.  This is especially a danger for religious people.  God needs to deconstruct that self-image.

In Philippians 3 we see how God deconstructed Paul’s pretentious self-image.  Paul states that the Christian is one who glories in Christ Jesus and puts no confidence in the flesh (v. 3).  By “flesh” he does not mean so much our sinful nature, but rather our human nature in the sense of who we are as a person.  In particular, he was thinking of his heritage as a member of the people of Israel and as a Pharisee who was faithful to that heritage and obedient to the law (vv. 4-6).

When Paul met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he saw that his heritage and fidelity to it were worthless.  Instead of a claim on God by it and a sense of superiority to others, he found a righteousness that was outside of himself in Jesus Christ (vv. 7-9).  Not only was this humbling.  It was freeing.  Paul was set free to go on a journey of pursuing his true self in Jesus Christ, and he no longer did this solely by his own human effort but by the power of the resurrection at work in him through Christ who had made Paul his own (vv. 10-14).

God had deconstructed Paul’s view of himself and would continue to do so.  Whenever we think that there is something in us or our heritage that can make a claim on God or something that makes us superior to others we need to allow God, the Great Deconstructionist, to work on us.

Derrida can help us see the problem, but he can’t help us solve it.  He can only deconstruct.  God deconstructs so that he can reconstruct.  The cross of Christ breaks down all human confidence in the flesh, but the resurrection of Christ lifts us up and begins to free us to fulfill our destiny to be like Jesus Christ the image of God.

Unfortunately, we Christians often come across as inhibited and darkly somber to non-Christians.  The skeptic Derrida’s notion of play has a role here too, but the real answer comes in G.K. Chesterton’s marvelously unsettling work, The Man Who Was Thursday.  But in the words of Woody Allen, “Some other time.”

2 thoughts on “God, The Great Deconstructionist

  1. thanks Bill- Interesting that all deconstructive systems that leave out the saving message of faith in Jesus, will always result in a devalued ego, hopelessness, despair, and “inhibited and darkly somber” people. We who have been deconstructed mercifully and in grace by a personal God, and then reconstructed by the saving blood and sanctifying Spirit, not only should positively upbeat, but then helping secular deconstructionists (and all in our circles of influence who have been deconstructed by death, divorce, evils and wrongs, sad circumstances)see that God’s plan takes broken lives and rebuilds them. That’s both sides of the Gospel.

    Dave Groleau

    1. Thanks, Dave. You’re so right. You make the point that I’m trying to make when we relate to secular deconstructionists. In spite of what they say against God and truth, they’ve actually hit on part of the truth. Unfortunately, it is only a negative truth that has destructive consequences.

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