Great is the Lord 7

RonHighfield.jpgHow can we talk about God? Seriously, the vastness and immensity and infinity of God beggar description and tax human language to the limit, so taxing in fact that we must admit the limitations of all God-talk. This is the topic taken up by  Ron Highfield in chp 5 of his excellent book, Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God.  

I confess that the limitations of human language in talking about God is important to me, and so Highfield’s chp resonates deeply with me.
“God is too transcendent for words but too important for silence. Let out our speech, then, consist of confession and praise and our silence of penance and adoration” (141).
Which leads him to the question “What is God?” and to this point: “God is God, apart from other things. Therefore, God cannot be defined.” And he continues: “The ability to define something is practically synonymous with the power to comprehend it” (143). That we cannot do: we cannot comprehend God. We can know God but we cannot comprehend the One Who is Infinite. The finite cannot grasp the Infinite; language can only take us so far. What’s left is the gaze.
But all this highlights something fundamental: God must reveal himself for us to know God. God reveals himself in Christ and in the Word, and these guide our comprehension of nature and our reason.
Highfield has an extensive discussion of the “attributes” of God, pondering the distinction between essence and existence as well as the distinction between substance and accident. He adapts the categories of Barth: divine freedom and divine love.
Then a brief on the names of God, the “God is…” statements, statements about God’s actions (God created), and the narratives of God’s actions. Next chp: Love Transcendent.
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  • Mr. McKnight,
    I have not read this book, but I am interested in the idea of our inability to define God. Is it that he cannot or that he will not?
    I have always been captivated by how God wouldn’t reveal a name for himself when Moses asked Him, “whom shall I say sent me?” And God’s answer is deliberately indefinable, moving, coy. He simply is.
    And the pursuit of God by those who love Him is born and is alive and well. He withdraws and we pursue. But that is far less than the half of it! Because He pursues as we withdraw. That story is told in the beginning with Adam and Eve.
    The sin and selfishness that take place in the garden causes God himself to step in and pursue. And in my life, I have seen the pursuing and the withdrawing of God and He knows exactly which way to move, closer to comfort me or further to draw me deeper, closer.
    And Love is like that. And life is like that. And my soul comprehends what my brain has no business contemplating.
    And for me, as well as anyone else, He is.
    With great anticipation,

  • Darryl

    Well said, Doug. Your language of pursing and withdrawing reminds me of dance. Perhaps that is exactly what it is. God dances with us.

  • Barb

    He is the great “I AM”…he is as close as calling “Jesus”..he is with us always….we make Him too complicated…even when we do not feel His presence He is with us….His Majesty is such that we as mortals can not fully comprehend….when He begins to work in your life you stand back in complete wonder… nothing can compare to His timing and precision….He is an awesome God!!!

  • Scot McKnight

    I can’t speak for God on this one; I don’t know “why” God does things this way.
    But I can say this: the bigger issue is “us.” We are limited, finite, sinful, cracked in all directions and a definition of God comprehends God in his infinity and perfections and in all of those so that the human mind cannot comprehend it and a human mind cannot contain it all into words that comprehend the whole.

  • T

    Really, really like this quote, and I think I will use it more than once in our calls to worship (but without the typo)!
    “God is too transcendent for words but too important for silence. Let ou[r] speech, then, consist of confession and praise and our silence of penance and adoration”

  • Randy G.

    I have been working in the book of Ruth. One commentary that I have found particularly interesting is Ellen F. Davis, Who Are You My Daughter?” Unlike some commentators, Davis works with the ambiguity and “play” of biblical language. She also meets my desire for “earthy” interpretations, which I find to be predominately female (feminist?) interpretations.
    On Naomi’s use of “Shaddai” in 1:20, Davis suggests that it is better to leave it untranslated than to translate it to “God Almighty.” She then explores the word itself.
    -It was first and heavily used in Genesis in promises to the patriarchs of abundant offspring (Which Naomi is returning without).
    -It is also used most frequently in Job, who addresses God as someone of whom we ought to have a reverent fear.
    -Shaddai may originally have referred to either or both a mountain deity and to breasts. The later fits in Naomi’s protest against Shaddai when she returns without her sons and with her body bereft of hope of having more to have an heir.
    I worry that we “Westerners?” “Scholars?” or whatever are too often concerned with getting a precise definition of biblical terms rather than allowing this kind of fruitful play to provide layers of meaning.
    Randy G.

  • In solidly depicting the many pitfalls we have in our attempts to TALK ABOUT GOD, all would be well advised to ponder the words of Ron Highfield. For it is not a time to be transcendant for words or remain in a cone of silence. In addition I would like to suggest we all TALK WITH GOD on a regular basis. He cares and loves us and welcomes your everday life concerns. But folks, we have to do the initiating of any dialogue. Here is where our group which is totally free to all can be helpful. Our monthly 1-1/2 hour meetings of 4-5 neighborhood friends learn how to inspire both themselves to INSPIRE daily dialogues with God. For free info….G. Hubbard, P.O Box 2232 Ponte Vedra FL 32004. Blog..