Tuesday, 1 October 2013

God? You Don't Know What You're Talking About

'...having the proper notions about the divine nature...transcends all cognitive thought and representation and cannot be likened to anything which is known...heed none of those things comprehended by the notions with regard to the Divine, nor...liken the transcendent nature to any of the things known by comprehension. Rather...believe that the Divine exists, and...not examine it with respect to quality, quantity, origin, and mode of being, since it is unattainable.'  Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses

'God' is such a slippery word isn't it?

I mean, what do you mean when you say 'God'?

OMG?

Light?

Love?

Person on a cloud?

Power?

Holiness?

Anger?

Force?

Nature?

And on and on and on I could go.

This is the problem we face when talking about the word 'God'.  It is actually a really unhelpful word. I could be talking to you
about 'God' and yet who or what you understand 'God' to be could be completely different to me, so whilst we think we're talking about the same thing we're actually talking about two completely different things.

You see we bring with us preconceived ideas and understandings of this word 'God'.  These ideas and understandings are a result of our upbringing, culture, faith or no faith, people we respect etc. What then happens is that whether we believe in 'God' or not we have a set of criteria in our mind of what 'God' should be like. Now that can be different to every person. What this does though is cause real problems when simply trying to engage in conversation or discussion about 'God'.

A common argument you hear is 'why does an all loving, all powerful god allow suffering?'

This argument comes from an already formed idea and understanding of 'God'. The person making this argument has not simply decided one day that 'God' should be all powerful and all loving, and that is something they have learnt whether consiously or sub-consciously.  It is an idea that simply is there in their minds already determining who or what 'God' should be like.  They have already decided what 'all powerful' and 'all-loving' should look like and then put that on their understanding of 'God'.

The problem for us who are a part of this thing called Christianity is that we can all too easily do the same thing.  So we impose on 'God' our preconceived ideas and understandings and when 'God' doesn't seem to follow these understandings of what 'God' should be like then our faith gets rattled and shaken like a baby toy.

Quite often we simply make 'God' in our own image and likeness, a neat role reversal of Genesis 1.  So we read it 'So man created god in his own image, in the image of man we created god; gods and gods we created them.'

As Karl Barth put it, God is not 'MAN' said in a loud voice.

Gregory of Nyssa is spot on in the above quote. We mustn't put upon 'God' what we think 'God' should be like because when we're talking about 'God' we haven't got a clue what we're talking about.

If Christianity is true then the only way we can begin to get our heads around this whole issue is to always begin with Jesus.

If Jesus really is the fullness of God dwelling in human form, then who God is is fully revealed and seen and known in Jesus. So any question of theology, any grappling with Divine, any gazing up at the stars and wondering if there is a 'God' out there begins with Jesus.  Indeed, if Christianity is true, then it ends with Jesus too.

Perhaps then the question about God and suffering looks somewhat different.

Some might say, 'Well love is the best way to understand God.'  But even then we struggle because the way we love is not the same way God loves.  Our love is a reflex.  A quote from a programme sums this up well when a doctor says 'Love is a reflex, it's what we do.'  And I think he's right. We love because we have been loved or because there is someone or something to give love to.  When we get married, fall in love, have children, go to funerals, share lives, we love because it is a response to something.

God isn't like that. God is love. So God's love is not a reflex or in response to anything, God simply loves because God is love. God isn't like us.

But then I don't really know what I'm talking about...

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