Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: A Key to Understanding God

After my grading was completed, I relaxed by starting to re-read the marvelous mayhem of Charles William's 1930 debut novel, his contemporary Holy Graal quest, War In Heaven. This kept me occupied on and off as I finished work and errands in New Orleans through to my first night at Jim and Leslie's to kick off my Christmas holiday. I ran into this line while reading him, and I wanted to make an effort toward remembering it:
"But God only gives, and He has only Himself to give, and He, even He, can give it only in those conditions which are Himself."
-- Charles Williams, War In Heaven
This neatly sums up a key point in understanding God that I think people often have trouble with, as they instinctively "pull God down" to a finite or human level, sometimes, I suspect, in order to "tame" God or to dismiss God, by recasting God into the human levels or modes with which they are comfortable or in which they feel they have power. It has become apparent to me just how important it is to try to transmit clearly the understanding of God as ultimate reality: as that reality behind and beyond which there is no other.

The problem, I think, is that people instinctively try to smuggle into their ideas of God something as basic as an environment. This is understandable, as every other thing in human experience has an environment, and because with this limitation of human experience and imagination, we cannot help but speak of God as an actor on a stage. But this cannot be true of God. God is the ultimate environment, the fundamental stage upon which all other action commences, even the existence of our space-time universe. This is the epic implication in what it means to understand God as the Creator: not as a figure zooming around the cosmos, as Michelangelo inevitably had to picture him within the limits of visual art, but as the only ultimate Reality "within" or "upon" which the universe itself comes into being. (See the limits of human language, where I have to use spatial imagery to talk about "where" God creates space itself?) I have to get my students to stretch their concepts of God beyond their inevitable metaphors and anthropomorphisms and into recognizing this contextless character of what Judaism and Christianity means by "God."

Only then does the logic of the language, and the logic of God's behavior start to make sense: that there is no context or environment beyond the Creator, but that our universe instead is drenched in characteristics of this God, most obviously in its rational character; that God does not exist, but is existence itself, from which all other existence is derived; that God does not love (verb), which we creatures may or may not do, but that God is love, existing triunely precisely in that mode. It helps to recognize in these aspects how God is closer to what we might call some constant "force of nature," and that most of the objections I hear people yelling at or about God, tend to stem from their desire that in some way or for some purpose of their own, they effectively wanted God to not be God, and to act more like another finite creature in the universe.

It's the same old problem the prophets had with their fellow Jews: everyone is much more comfortable with carving some small, understandable, and tame little god. The reality, (Reality!) while able to be encountered and partially understood by human beings, is beyond everything in this universe, including humanity, and it's hard work for us to really try to come to grips with reality in all its depth. Only in God do human beings encounter an object greater than themselves, and that calls for some weird science.
Tags: books, charles williams, grace and freedom/nature, mysticism/spirituality, quotations, systematic theology, theological notebook, trinity

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