If someone asked me, “What do you love about your wife?”, and I answered, “She has eyes and a mouth and a nose”, my answer wouldn’t be based on anything unique to her. Such an answer could call into question whether I actually loved my wife, because my reasons for love were based on things common to all women.
Similarly, if someone were to ask a Christian why they have faith in the God of the Bible, the response ought to be based on more than a list of divine attributes any god could possess. Otherwise, one’s faith is not in The God, but a god. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gives us a list of general qualities that not only the real God possesses, but which many false gods are said to possess:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness…(Romans 2: 14 – 15)
What Paul is saying is that God through creation has revealed the following about Himself:
- He is the creator
- He is eternal
- He is powerful
- He has a moral code
Now even though these things are true of the God of the Bible, a Muslim and an Orthodox Jew also believe them. A theist who believes in these four truths is a far cry from a Christian who believes in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, and that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate Eternal Son, second person of the Trinity. The Bible is too particular to allow one’s faith to be based only on generally revealed divine attributes. Christians are to believe in a particular God who interacted in history in particular ways. God parted the Red Sea, carried Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, and rose from the dead on the third day.
A faith in god, which lacks the particulars of Scripture and is based only on attributes that can be derived from nature, is not enough.
god is ineffable, incomprehensible. our frame of reference for any idea we have, any conception, is reality. a transcendent god cannot be known because he transcends reality. an imminent god is indistinguishable from reality, ordinary.
that means it’s very unimportant to know if there is a god because what we say about god isn’t about god. there’s no difference between saying you believe in god and saying you believe in what you believe in god.
as it concerns teleology and christology, romans isn’t suggesting that god has any moral code (god is not “moral” since we know what we mean by it and can only be judging god as good). NT scripture, jesus sayings and such, are about a way of being in the world, not a way to act in it as if actors are what christ followers are.
faith is the word translated from the greek “pistis”. protestants equivocate and then conflate faith with belief. pistis is first a persuasion to the good; since god is goodness, faith in god and faith toward god is the same thing. participation is atonement. the experience is salvation.
you’ll notice that in this descriptive, exclusivism has no place. to see goodness in others and to see them doing what is good yet to say they’re not good or experiencing redemption is to say goodness and god are two separate and separable things.
Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my latest blog. As I considered how to comment back, I decided to take your actions more seriously than your words. For your words say that God is incomprehensible and it doesn’t matter what we think about him, and yet your actions says something else, for why else would you take the time to read a religious blog and respond to it, if you didn’t have very distinct ideas about what god is like, and if you didn’t think it was important to think about God correctly?
And so since we are both in agreement that it matters to know who God is and to think correctly about him, I must ask you on what basis can you say that God is incomprehensible? Can the God who created the human mouth and voice not Himself speak to His creatures? Is God so limited in power that He cannot communicate something meaningful about Himself to his creation?
It is one thing to say that God has willfully chosen not to reveal himself to his creation. But it is another thing to say it is impossible for God to reveal Himself to His creation. In order to say it is impossible for God to make Himself known, you would have to know that quality to be true about God, and therefore the statement is self-defeating. “The one thing I know about God is that nothing can be known about God.” That belief cannot be defended logically, philosophically or theologically.
i never said or implied what we say about god doesn’t matter. i’m saying ALL that CAN matter is what we say about god, not that ANY of it is actually about god at all.
let’s start with what i said, because i have no behaviors here for you to speak of. posting more attention to what i say may keep you from putting words on my mouth more than you already have.
so, let’s start there. how do you champion a cataphatic tradition when transcendence necessitates the apophatic?
Equivocal God-talk leaves us in total ignorance about God. At best, one can only feel, intuit, or sense God in some experiential way, but no human expressions can describe what it is that is being experienced … [As for univocal] Our understanding and expressions are finite, and God’s are infinite, and there is an infinite gulf between finite and infinite. As transcendent, God is not only beyond our limited understanding, but He is also beyond our finite expressions.
(Norman Geisler, ‘Systematic Theology, Vol. 1’, Bethany House Publishers, 2002, pg. 615)
… when we speak of God by using the word ‘God’, we do not understand what we mean, we have no concept of God; what governs our use of the word ‘God’ is not an understanding of what God is but the validity of a question about the world [Why anything at all?] … What goes for our rules for the use of ‘God’ does not go for the God we try to name with the word. (And a corollary of this, incidentally, is why a famous argument for the existence of God called the ontological argument does not work.)
(Fr. Herbert McCabe, ‘God Matters’, Continuum, 2005, pg. 6)
For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experiential propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible. It is sometimes claimed, indeed, that the existence of a certain sort of regularity in nature constitutes sufficient evidence for the existence of a god. But if the sentence “God exists” entails to more than that certain types of phenomena occur in certain sequences, then to assert the existence of a god will be simply equivalent to asserting that there is the requisite regularity in nature; and no religious man would admit that this was all he intended to assert in asserting the existence of a god. He would say that in talking about God, he was talking about a transcendent being who might be known through certain empirical manifestations, but certainly could not be defined in terms of those manifestations. But in that case the term “god” is a metaphysical term. And if “god” is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that “God exists” is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.
(A. J. Ayer, “Language, Truth, And Logic”, Dover, Second Edition, 1952, pg. 117)
To exist beyond the sphere of natural law means to exist beyond the scope of human knowledge; epistemological transcendence is a corollary of ‘supernaturalness’. If a god is a natural being, if his actions can be explained in terms of normal causal relationships, then he is a knowable creature. Conversely, if god can be known, he cannot be supernatural. Without mystery, without some element of the incomprehensible, a being cannot be supernatural – and to designate a being as supernatural is to imply that this being transcends human knowledge. Epistemological transcendence is perhaps the only common denominator among all usages of the term “god,” including those of Tillich, Robinson and other modern theologians. While some “theists” reject the notion of a supernatural being in a metaphysical sense, it seems that every self-proclaimed theist – regardless of his particular use of the term “god” – agrees that a god is mysterious, unfathomable or in someway beyond man’s comprehension. The idea of the “unknowable” is the universal element linking together the various concepts of god, which suggests that this is the most critical aspect of theistic belief. The belief in an unknowable being is the central tenet of theism, and it constitutes the major point of controversy between theism and critical atheism.
(George Smith, ‘Atheism: The Case Against God’, 1973)
The ancient ideas about salvation … do not in themselves place us under any critique, except in so far as, in their own way, they posit the criterion of Jesus as final source of salvation. Anyone who fails to see this distinction is proposing not Jesus Christ but one particular bit of religious culture as the norm of Christian faith — and ceases to be faith in Jesus of Nazareth … In him we find final salvation, well-being. This is the fundamental creed of primitive Christianity.
(Edward Schillebeeckx, ‘Jesus: An Experiment In Christology’, pg. 23.)
In our times, an authentic faith in God only seems to be possible in the context of a praxis of liberation and of solidarity with the needy. It is in that praxis that the idea develops that God reveals himself as the mystery and the very heart of humanity’s striving for liberation, wholeness and soundness. The concept of that mystery, which is at first concealed in the praxis of liberation and of making whole, is only made explicit in the naming of that concept in the statement made in faith that God is the liberator, the promoter of what is good and the opponent of what is evil …
The message of Christ is I’m dying but my death itself is good news. It means you are alone, left to your freedom, be in the Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, which is just the community of believers. It’s wrong to think that the second coming will be that Christ as a figure will return somehow. Christ is already here when believers form an emancipatory collective. This is why I claim that the only way really to be an atheist is to go through Christianity. Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism which can claim there is no God and so on, but nonetheless retains a certain trust into the Big Other. This Big Other can be called natural necessity, evolution or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within a harmonious whole of evolution or whatever, but the difficult thing to accept is, again, that there is no Big Other. No point of reference which guarantees meaning.
(Slavoj Žižek, “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology”)
hey, by the way, my theology i described is called “natural theology”. in judaism, it’s called “blessed participation” or “divine pedagogy”. in islam, it’s called “fitrah”. if i say salvation is through grace and faith, then the only difference between these abrahamic faiths are the words used to signify what grace is (god’s active presence in the world) and faith (a draw to goodness, which is god revealed more and more as we move toward it).
as for scripture and christianity being specific, scripture is silent on atonement, soteriology, eschatology, and christology, there’s no hint of trinitarianism in scripture except a single discountable redaction (see josephus) in the great commission. jesus said he was a prophet, a teacher. mark saw him as divine at baptism. matthew and luke saw him as divine at birth. john saw him as a manifestation of god’s eternal mind and will. i digress …
the thing is, all ideas in christianity are developmental. there is only one shared belief in all christian communities. that is, christ atones. it is a fact that no christian knows how.
putting your beliefs about god and christ above a principled love for god and love of humanity is to establish an idol no christian can mandate anyone else follow because it does not follow from christ.
“How do you champion a cataphatic tradition when transcendence necessitates the apophatic?”
I do not accept the claim that transcendence necessitates the apophatic. That is a philosophical assertion disproven by God’s self-revelation to, and interaction with, man. When God positively speaks about Himself, then we positively know things about God. The Bible teaches that the transcendent God condescended to man, expressing Himself in words and actions that man could understand. It is only in the condescension of the Transcendent One that we can know anything specific and meaningful about God. And so my question to you is what prevents a transcendent God from condescending to men? Why the pre-supposition that God can only be spoken of apophatically?
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…” Hebrews 1: 1 – 3
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2: 5 – 8
As far as natural theology contributing to our knowledge of God, that is exactly the point of my article. In the quote I provided from Romans,
there are four basic points about God that can be derived from nature (a natural theology). But natural theology only goes so far. One could never by natural theology write what the authors of Hebrews and Philippians wrote in my quotes above. The claim that Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature, and that although in the form of God He condescended to humanity by taking on the form of a man, can only be made after God specifically reveals it. If that claim comes from somewhere other than a revealed theology, it has no merit, for one cannot say such specific things about God and about a man named Jesus outside of revelation.
you have to say how these theologians and philosophers are wrong. you can’t quote scripture to do that. every believer of any religion things theirs is special and so, none are remarkable. it is a rational problem you must address with reason.
however, you are obviously completely ignorant of the idea of memra and logos. once you do, you might be able to compare moses’ account of the burning bush with stephen’s account in acts. and once you do, you will realize that god has always been seen as apart from all things physical, needing mediators THROUGH WHICH he is said to reveal NOT HIMSELF but his will.
I think I am a little unclear on the rules of engagement here. As we have been talking about God, we have both provided quotes from people other than ourselves. When I quote someone who claims to have heard from God, as part of a conversation we are having about God, that is invalid and unreasonable? But when you quote philosophers or natural theologians, who do not claim to have heard from God, but are only speaking ideas from their own minds or the minds of other men, that is valid and reasonable in a conversation about God? By that standard Richard Dawkins is a greater authority than Jesus Christ, and better suited to speak about God.
It seems to me that if you and I are going to have a productive conversation, we have to wrestle with the concept of divine revelation. If you believe in God, then it would seem you cannot categorically reject divine revelation, because there is no way to substantiate why the God who created all things couldn’t speak to humanity if He wanted to. And so it seems that rather than categorically rejecting divine revelation, you claim God has chosen not to speak at all, or he has chosen to speak so cryptically that the speaking is virtually worthless, and so the only remaining avenue for meaningful knowledge of God is philosophy and natural theology.
Have I understood your position on divine revelation correctly?
If I have, then I must also ask, if God has deliberately chosen to not speak, or to speak cryptically and unclearly, then why would we conclude via philosophy or natural theology that talking about God is a worthy endeavor? Why not conclude the opposite – since God has chosen to hide himself from us, He doesn’t actually want us to know Him? Wouldn’t that be a more consistent conclusion?
no. you haven’t understood. i think it’s intentional.
i quoted folks in response to bring asked where i get this idea from. i got the idea because I’m a rational thinker. it happens that when researching, these are some of those who have agreed and expound clearly.
you are quoting people saying things about god or purportedly speaking for god, and that’s nothing interesting or new and is completely common in religion.
the difference is, there are only two questions being asked of those making claims of the transcendence of god and of the imminence of god. it is axiomatic that transcendence makes god incomprehensible. imminence axiomatically makes god indistinguishable from nature. hence, “supernatural” and “natural”.
your job is to say how either problem are surmountable. and simply claiming “well, jesus is god’s self revelation” is merely lip service and i would expect you to buy those comments from other religious folks either such as islamists, jainists, mithrans, etc.
so, those are your first problem to overcome. scripture tells us that we can’t tell the source of revelation except by fruit. anyone can do good. anyone can talk to. good is then a wide open definition and relative to personal views of goodness. there’s your third problem.
fourth of this:
there are two identical universes except one has a god and the other has no god. if you cannot offer some way to tell which is which, you can’t tell which kind we live in. this means that all god-talk are derivatives of reality, not god since god-talk exists in both sorts of universes but god doesn’t exist in both. it means there is no feature of the universe (life, logic, morality, cats that seem to speak english) which informs us about god.
my “position”, by the way and so i’m clear, is that we are the limit of what we can understand. god can only reveal what we can understand. god is not understandable by definition. for instance, i could not reveal a cell phone to a person from 4,000 BCE. god isn’t just more “complex” than a cell phone; god is beyond all things which manifest. at best, god-talk, even revelation about god from god, is analogous.
you can certainly follow apophatic thinkers like aquinas in speaking in positive terms about god, but these are analogous to human beings, not god. such statements are statements made in faith about an experience that came from practicing one’s belief. we are saying here that we know what is purported theologically plays out in real terms when followed. it is lip service then to claim exclusivism in christianity when clearly, it is not the only religion having those conversations with those same results.
any human being can write what is written in philippians and hebrews because a man did write them.
there is no difference between a claim that a theology is true in some sense other than that it bears fruit when acted on, than additionally claiming said theology is a revelation of god. merely asserting such things has nothing to with making it so. (see matthew 7:16-18 for example)
what keeps good from revealing himself? ourselves! we have ONE frame of reference and all our thoughts are based on it; reality. reality is exactly what god is not! obviously you didn’t read any of the quotes!
we can only know ourselves and our reality.
christians believe jesus is god’s revelation but this does not make it so.
by the way, “condescend” does not mean what you think it means.