God is a Mystery

These words emerged in a discussion of God as koan in a comment thread here on this blog. I thought I’d turn them into images that can be shared.

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  • Orc Orchard

    There are no gods and hence, no mystery.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t see how one can reason in that direction, since what some mean by God is the cosmos, which by definition exists. Perhaps one could argue the reverse – if God or gods always involve an element of mystery, then if one could prove that there are no mysteries, then perhaps one could also say that there are no gods. But I am not persuaded that there are no mysteries.

      • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

        Doesn’t the whole question of what God is (or whether He/She/It is a mystery), depend upon how you define God? I don’t think it’s a question of semantics. I think that, even if you limit yourself to Christians, there are a huge variety of “Gods” that people believe in.

        As you say, what some mean by God is the cosmos.

        James, what do you mean by God?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

          For me, the word God denotes whatever the ultimate reality is, whether it be our universe, or a multiverse, or that which brought them into existence, or the context and framework within which one or more universes exist. I don’t claim to be able to perceive that reality directly, or know whether it has a will and if so what that will is. Hence my talking about mystery a lot. :-)

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            That sounds like the textbook definition of a pantheist, unless I’ve missed something?

            If God denotes all of reality, and you can’t perceive whether that reality has a will or not, why refer to God at all if it is simply another word for ultimate reality? What leads you to take on the name of a Christian?

            (I don’t mean the question at all cynically – I’m trying to figure out where you come from to see if it’s a place I might be interested in going.)

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            The images are beautiful, by the way.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

            The main reason for considering myself a Christian is that I had a life-changing religious experience within a Christian setting, and although I don’t think about that experience in the way I did immediately after it occurred, it has still set the tone for everything that I’ve done since. I don’t think that, even if I were to adopt a different label, or even if I were to try to reject Christianity, I could escape from the formative impact it has had on me, both nominally in my upbringing and then later more personally and experientially.

            The main reasons I don’t self-identify as a pantheist are (1) I think of God as involving the transcendent, and so at the very least, that which emerges out of the entirety of all that exists and not merely the sum of the parts, as it were, and (2) I don’t know where transcendence ends, if indeed it is anything other than infinite, and so although part of our universe may be all that I can experience through the aided senses, I simply don’t know how far up or down the rabbit hole goes.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Thank you for this.

            Whether transcendent or not, I agree that we don’t know how far up or down the rabbit hole goes.

  • BrotherRog

    Equating the cosmos with God is a form of pantheism. And that’s fine and well.
    I happen to be a panentheist. Panentheism holds that God is fully transcendent from all of Creation as well as fully immanent within it. Seems to better jibe with my experiences. Peace.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      Panentheism is the term I indentify with most as well.

  • Jerome

    So if ‘God’ is a mystery without a solution and a question without an answer then what is ‘God’ supposed to be or why speculate about it in the first place??

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      I think the only reason to do so is dissatisfaction with simply not speculating, not wondering, not pondering. Even when the answer to a question is “we don’t know” we are often not content just to shrug and say OK. It is an expression of our own longing for transcendence, and to understand our place in the grand scheme of things.

      • Jerome

        Ok, fair enough. But if ‘God’ is such a mystery or such an unanswerable question then why assume the Bible describes any aspect of it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

          Why indeed! In general, progressive and liberal Christians understand the Biblical texts not as descriptions of God but as expressions of the human search for God, and perhaps at times also symbolic pointers in the direction of God.

          • Jerome

            Fundie Christians must hate you for that! 😀

            I’m not sure you could still call ‘progressive and liberal Christianity’ a religion then? Isn’t it more like a philosophy?

            Or do you have core theological dogmas that have to be taken on faith? That’s seems to be incompatible with ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ though, no?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

            The notion that religion has to involve accepting dogmas on faith has never been universally accepted, nor has it gone unchallenged. Paul Tillich’s The Dynamics of Faith makes what I consider a very good case for Christians to understand faith very differently than that.

            Yes, some fundamentalist Christians hate me! :-)

          • Jerome

            Would you mind briefly explaining what your faith actually is then in this case?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

            If you mean “what ‘faith’ means” from this perspective, then Tillich defines it as being “ultimately concerned” – i.e. it is about the orientation of one’s life, rather than accepting things in spite of counterevidence or without evidence. And he advocates making one’s focus nothing less than the truly ultimate, since anything less is idolatry.

            If you mean that you would like me to articulate my “faith” in the sense of spelling out my worldview in as much detail as I can muster, then I have done some of that in the past and will gladly do so again, but I will make that a blog post or series of blog posts, rather than trying to cover that in a comment.

          • Jerome

            Ok, that’d be interesting. Because I don’t get why you call yourself a Christian then? Because you like (some of) the Christian morals? Or some of their beliefs about the meaning of life, the afterlife, etc?
            You clearly don’t believe the theological premises, right?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath
  • progressivefan1

    I saw one once

  • progressivefan1

    …where did the universe come from ? Why are there black holes – why do
    stars explode – why are there 100 000 billion galaxies with the same number of
    stars as the sand on all our beaches…where does life come from and
    consciousness – very bizarre – you can forgive people for saying there might be
    a spiritual awesomeness to that….as professor paul davies has stated.