Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What about God?

Tony Jones has issued a challenge to progressive bloggers to do a post about God. He thinks, perhaps rightly, that progressives/liberals/call them what you will don't talk about him much compared to evangelicals.

I'm sure he's right, but the trouble is, some conservatives know - or think they know - altogether too much about God. He wants this, he rejects that - usually some people the conservatives don't approve of, like publicans and sinners in ancient Judea - he can't do this and he can't do that. The latter really worries me. How can you use the word 'can't' of omnipotence? Surely the word implies that God can do anything he likes, even turn lead into gold or tell the tide to go back out when it's only halfway in. If he doesn't do things like that, maybe we be should be asking some awkward questions, which won't be settled by your favourite prooftext. I've even heard a preacher say that God 'always' wants to heal, and if he doesn't it's probably your fault for not having enough faith. I'll hold my nose and pass by that one as fast as I can before I write a naughty word. Not many of them manage to plumb such depths.

What we 'know' about God is mostly what tradition tells us, and we think we read out of the Bible. That's one of the big problems with a conservative approach to the text; you can make the Bible say anything, if you just find the right prooftext. It never seems to say anything they don't want to hear. We all 'know' God is immanent, which is a big word meaning he's with us. In our hearts, in a favourite conservative term. He's also transcendent, an equally big word meaning he's out there. Somehow, we have to square the circle and make him both at once, since that's what tradition says, and sure enough, there are well-known prooftexts for both. At one and the same time, he's sitting on his throne somewhere up in the third heaven, and he's also in our hearts. Tradition, of course, also says he's omnipresent, which is a nice way out of that one. He's everywhere, all at once.

He's clearly not one of us, whatever he is. Allegedly, he's both one and three at the same time, which we clearly aren't. I'm not going to get into that one; last week I was accused of heresy for (supposedly) denying the Trinity, and once a month is enough for that sort of thing. And he's the Creator, which means he's not a created being. In some way, he has to be utterly different from us.

We however, subsist within creation; we can't imagine anything outside it. That implies that whatever we think about God, it's likely to be wrong. Language is a created thing; it can't describe God any more than the finite can comprehend the infinite. Maybe that's why liberals (I prefer the term to 'progessive'; people think they know what it means) don't write so much about God. We're not so confident about our prescriptions; it's more a case of 'O let us never, never doubt, what nobody is sure about'. That's Hilaire Belloc, by the way. A great writer of doggerel, even if he was a fascist. The one thing we can say for definite about God is that he's like nothing we can possibly imagine. That's a lot less comfortable than anything you hear from conservatives!

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