Jun 13, 2007

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they.

--Tennyson, In Memoriam

Chapter 2 of How (Not) to Speak of God continues themes from Chapter 1: How our speech and understandings of God always fall short. And, thus, we must take note of the Lesson of the Pharisees who believed that their understanding of the Messiah WAS the Messiah. We must be cautious of making the same mistake, assuming our understandings of God (via our doctrine, theology, and church tradition) ARE God.

To illustrate this point, Rollins deploys a couple of formulations:

a/theology: There are both things we can say about God (theology) and things we cannot say about God (atheology).

the un/known God: God is known and yet God is also beyond all knowing (unknown).

a/theism: We affirm things about God (theism) yet deny that formulations of God are God (atheism).

We noted that these formulations share similarities with the apophatic and cataphatic moves in theology. Apophatic theology emphasizes what can NOT BE SAID about God. It is a "negative theology" emphasizing God's ineffability, inscrutability, and mystery. By contrast, cataphatic theology, so-called "positive theology," focuses on what can properly BE SAID about God. American Protestant traditions have tended to be cataphatic, focusing on making claims about God. But this may have lead to pride on our part, causing us to slip into the error of the Pharisees. By reclaiming the apophatic aspects of theology, rooted in Christianity's mystical tradition, we learn that human speech and doctrine are limited in their ability to capture God in a verbal box. This is not to disrespect doctrine or tradition but to pay God our highest respect: God will not be verbally, theologically, conceptually, or intellectually tamed by us. God will stand above all our words and ideas.

These formulations reinforce each other, leading to the same point: As noted in Tennyson's poem, our theology, doctrine, and church tradtions are but "broken lights" that "have their day" and "cease to be" and that God will always be "more than they."


G'ampa C said...

Are we not limited by our own intellect to speak only what we believe about God, regardless of actual truth? To speak differently than our awareness permits is literally making things up, isn't it? Everything we believe about God is based on our current understanding of scripture and our own faith experience. Once removed in time from any faith experience, we have great difficulty proving God's existence or activity by any words, whether in the realm of what we can say about God or what we can't say about God. The blind beggar who was healed by Jesus could not prove to the Jews that Jesus was from God, but his own faith experience convinced him that whatever Jesus said, it was reliable. To those without his faith experience, no proof could be accepted which would show Jesus to be the Son of Man. No argument was valid in proving the true identity of Jesus. Our only recourse is to be blind apart from our own faith experience and current understanding. Past that we tend to make God in our own image. John 9:35-41 is so descriptive of our condition. It ends with Jesus telling the Pharisees;
"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."
Our understanding of God within our faith experience can not be an adequate proof to the world that God exists at all. Boiled down, I think it is only love touching another person which first promotes faith, then introduces God. We have been negligent in our love, and therefore ineffective in our evidences of God.


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