The Impossible Space Between Us

I am the Space Between Us

In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus alludes to the infinite distance in the spaces of human discourse:

“And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

And he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.’

Then he said, ‘I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham saith unto him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’

And he said, ‘Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.’

And he said unto him,’ If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’”
Luke 16:20-31

In this parable, Jesus describes an impassable space in Hell as a “great gulf fixed,” which cannot be crossed, and the same fixed gulf is found in the hearts and minds of the five brothers of the rich man. They would not be persuaded to change their ways even if someone rose from the dead to speak to them. The impassable fixed gulf is already fixed inside them. Perhaps it is not the gulf, nor Abraham that is immovably rooted. Perhaps it is the rich man and his brothers who are fixed in positions of prejudice, expectation, economic privilege, and intellectual justifications for oppression and carelessness.

But am I any different than the rich man and his brothers? I think not. The same fixed gulf is in me. It is in you. Like the rich man, we are fixed – rooted in our own perspectives – even prejudices, we cannot shake loose, and in these perspectives we become the part of the infinite and impassable distance.

The Gap as Isolation

The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man also highlights the lonely cry of isolation. The “great gap fixed,” allows only the lonely cry to pass to Abraham’s ears from the burning tongue of the rich man isolated in the place of torment.

The infinite space between our points of view leaves us on a spot in the universe all alone. No other person can think my thoughts with me. Even the voicing of my thoughts is an incomplete act. How often I struggle to say the right thing in the right way! How often I struggle to be heard for what I mean and not what someone else thinks I have said! Through my point of view I become both the subject observing the object I perceive, and the point I stand upon becomes source of my isolation, and in this isolation my voice cries across the “great gap fixed.”

Zeno’s paradox seems silly and complicatedly impractical for living, except that it may perfectly demonstrate how impossibly different our points of view can be. If I move halfway to a point of destination, and every move I make takes me halfway to the object, I will never reach the object, because there are an infinite number of halfway points. When you and I argue, you present me with your opinion, and I may concede to a portion of your argument, but not agreeing 100% I still rebut, but even my rebuttal, is rebutted by your “but,” and soon, we have ‘butted’ our way to an unsolvable position.

Zeno’s paradox is an illustration about how debating with one another only highlights the infinite distance between us: we often find resolution to our arguments not by agreeing with one another, but by conceding through apologies or agreeing to disagree. When we do not reach this gracious concession, topics such as religion and politics become taboo. Politicians, CEOs, and preachers have made a profession arguing against others and often creating an isolation, which Chuck Swindoll called the “the lonely whine of the top dog,”[1] but neighbors, long time friends, and even family members are handicapped by this impossible struggle of isolation. To relieve ourselves from this tension in family settings we create taboos – untouchable, infinitely distant categories of discussion. In these topics of non-discussion, we have set our boundaries for establishing peace, but the isolating factor always remains – the elephant always remains in the room.

Me as Subject – traumatized by what I observe?

“The difference between subject and object can also be expressed as the difference between the two corresponding verbs, to subject (submit) oneself and to object (protest, oppose, create an obstacle). The subject’s founding gesture is to subject itself – voluntarily, of course…If then the subject’s activity is, at its most fundamental, the activity of submitting itself to the inevitable, the fundamental mode of the object’s passivity, of its passive presence, is that which moves, annoys, disturbs, traumatizes us (subjects): at its most radical level the object is that which objects, that which disturbs the smooth running of things.” [2]

Zizek’s point on the activity of subject and object in relation to one another describes what happens to us with our opinions and observations about the objects of our concern and meditation. As we give ourselves to the consideration of ideas, we are the changed ones. The real difference in our opinions about God, or religion is observed in the changes our ideas have made on us. I do not change the object I perceive, the object looking back at me informs and converts me. It imposes a kind of proselytization upon me, which as the subject I have submitted myself to, and accepted. The actual activity and value of religion does not intrinsically change by my opinion of it. Its history, and traditions, and week-to-week activities in the world remain the same. If I have a positive valuation of church, the changed aspect is not the church but myself, and religion then calls me to some degree of engagement. A negative valuation engages me in an opposite manner, but engages me nonetheless, and the object challenges me, “annoys, disturbs, traumatizes” me. We have been unwitting accomplices to the impossible intellectual, emotional, and prejudicial distances between church and church, between church and world, between nation and nation, between power brokers and oppressed, between one culture and another, between neighbor and neighbor, between ourselves and our closest friends and family members. The first step is to wholeness is to confess, “I am a prejudiced fixed point on one side of this impossibly impassable space.”

1 – Living on the Ragged Edge, Chapter 8 by Chuck Swindoll
2 – The Parallax View, Slavoj Zizek, page 17.

Here’s the list of other bloggers contributing posts related to healing the divides this month:

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