Christ is Contingency: Embracing the Unknown

by Lee C. Camp, host of Tokens Show Christian Wiman—poet and our featured guest on our recent show in Abilene—asserts that “Christ is contingency.” It is perhaps something we might expect of a poet who goes to writing theology: language that is propositional but simultaneously subverts static, propositionalist claims. Contingency—that which can be different, cannot be predicted; a fact that is, in fact, so, but not necessarily so, does not have to be so.

It is instructive, I think, to consider a phrase in common currency in our technocratic age: we prefer to “nail down the contingencies,” a striking idiom when juxtaposed with “Christ as contingency.”  Whatever—in the world of commerce, or in the world of theological inquiry, or in the business(!) of making ourselves happy—we somehow have become convinced that the fundamental business of living is nailing down contingencies, to get everything fixed and sorted out and certified; thereby, we think we avoid not only suffering but the slightest inconvenience.

That old religious word “grace” denotes a direct affront to certifiability, to having it all nailed down. “Grace” is a notion that celebrates not merit but gift. But “grace” may carry with it such religious overtones that we may miss the point of Wiman’s assertion that “Christ is contingency.” This assertion seems not so much to be a religious claim, some private, personal opinion about God, as much as it is a claim about the nature of existence, about what it means to live according to the grain of the universe rather than our furious attempts to cut against it, refute it, nail it.

“Grace” can just as easily get reduced to yet one more non-contingent truth claim, all the sudden a mechanism for determining who is in and who is out, a mechanism for division rather than reconciliation, a proposition to nail down in order to soothe our aching anxiety about the contingent nature of the universe.

But if the language of grace is to be true, it will yield no such nailing down, but I suspect will evoke a wonder that is, as Wiman says elsewhere, “the pre-condition for all wisdom” (My Bright Abyss, 64). It will “speak and be love's fluency,” will hold doubt and faith together, the ache of loss and the joys of the excess energy of love together.

You may listen to the second half of our Abeline show this Sunday, June 14, at 1:00 Central, in West Texas on KACU 89.5 FM and available globally online at KACU.org.