Sunday, October 23, 2005

All God, All the Time

God is the clock-maker, the puppeteer, the author. God is the light, the mother, the wind across the sea, the breath in every set of lungs. God is the horizon. God is all of these things.

But what if God is none of them? What if every possible affirmation that can be made of God, even by the so-called religions of revelation, falls so far short of the truth of God as to be false? Who is the atheist then? The glib God-talk that infuses public discourse in contemporary America descends from an anthropomorphic habit of mind, dating to the Bible and beyond, that treats God like an intimate friend or well-known enemy, depending on the weather and the outcome of battles. But there is another strain in the Biblical tradition that insists on the radical otherness of God, an otherness so complete that even the use of the word ''God" as a name for this Other One is forbidden. According to this understanding, God is God precisely in escaping and transcending comprehension by human beings. This can seem to mean that God is simply unknowable. If so, humans are better off not bothering about it. Atheism, agnosticism, or childish anthropomorphism -- all the same.

But here is where it gets tricky. What if God's unknowability is the most illuminating profundity humans can know about God? That would mean that religious language, instead of opening into the absolute certitude on which all forms of triumphal superiority are based, would open into true modesty.

via The Revealer, a column by james carroll on the nature of God and whether we can know him.

it's thoughtful and touches on some things i've been thinking about now that i've stopped my christian dating experiment (more on that later.)


greg said...

That's an excellent quote. Here is something similar from Gordan Kaufman that I came across about a week ago: The symbol 'God' ... has a complex dialectical tension built into its very center: it can point us toward that which is utterly beyond us, that ultimate mystery which we neither comprehend nor can control; but the symbol itself, of course, is something present to us, something that we know - and for just this reason it is not to be straightforwardly identified with that ultimate mystery to which it points. When this dialectic in the symbol 'God' is allowed to function properly, God is allowed to be God; and we are enabled to enter into a relationship of genuine piety toward God. ... to the extent that we try significantly to control this mystery ... we become idolaters who sin against God; for we are then trying to make ourselves the ultimate disposers of human life. And for this we must always repent, acknowledging that our destiny is really in God's hands: it is, finally, mystery.

I'm kind of saddened that most of the folks at my church would consider this heresy. Which part of sola scriptura don't I understand?

ding said...

a friend of mine often says that, to her, faith is the acknowledgment of uncertainty. she said this once in front of a very evangelical christian guy we were having drinks with. his head almost popped off.

he thought that came pretty close to blasphemy and said, how can you say that God is unknowable and that we can't know Him? We have his Word! if we're in a constant state of doubt then what's salvation for?

is salvation's purpose to put a familiar face on God so that we get to escape hell? and if God is truly Other, then can a book contain all of It?

i believe that we are so influenced by our various conversion narratives, our own personal roads to Damascus, that we would like our faith to be a series of 'I know!' moments.

it's so much clearer that we know nothing and that we're all muddling toward ... Something.