Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Theology Part IV

How can we properly speak of God? In the presence of the divine, our humanity is ever before us. We become acutely aware of our inability to properly define the experience of God.

We see the outworking of this in the story of the golden calf in Exodus. While Moses is on the mountain in the presence of God the people become impatient and command Aaron to craft for them a golden calf. At first look it appears that the golden calf is to be a replacement for God, however, upon further inspection we see that the golden calf was meant to be a representation of the one true God [Exodus 32:5].

The reason for the wrath of God being poured out on his people, and the violent reaction of Moses is due to the fact that any human conception cannot adequately describe God. Our richest, and most robust theological statements cannot adequately represent the one and only true God.

Even the name of God, the divine YHWH [pronounced Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh] lacks the proper vowel sounds to be pronounced by humans. The result is a breath like name, one that cannot be pronounced adequately with human language. The message in the divine name of God is clear; God cannot be contained in a name, and even the most personal name that we can attribute to God inevitably falls short of his glory.

But what of the side of God that has been revealed to us? What of the truth statements of the Scriptures that we derive our theological statements from? Are we to completely abandon all hopes of adequately describing God, hence tying our hands from the ability to share the God of our salvation with others?

Karl Barth said that even the revealed side of God is mysterious. That which we know about God cannot be seen clearly. Paul seems to advocate this position in 1 Corinthians 13:12. We currently see only a dim reflection of God, we see through a foggy mirror, the reflection is there, but it is hazy. We cannot comprehend the depth and breadth of God.

We believe in a God who is hyper-present. That is a God who transcends both our cognitive minds, and our experiences. Our experiences of God are only dim reflections of the one true God. Our experiences, and the language we have available to describe those experiences are woefully inadequate.

Does this mean that we rid ourselves of all statements of God? I think that would be to take our inability to an extreme. In Scripture we have a God who comes to live in our neighborhood [John 1:14]. Jesus is the incarnation of God; he comes to our level so that we can glimpse God in some small way.

Theology at the same time must be incarnational. It must seek to take the transcendent God and translate that experience into human words. We must be faithful in describing the experience of God to others. However, by understanding our limited ability both linguistically and experientially, it helps to insulate us from making absolutist and all encompassing statements. This understanding necessitates the whole church contributing to our theology.

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