Talking about God Is Not (Necessarily) Incoherent [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

On Tuesday, I posted Hugh’s entry in the Questions That Haunt Christianity. It’s a doozy. Honestly, it may be the toughest question yet.

Hugh wrote in about how theologians talk about God. Basically, he leveled the charge that theologians pick adjectives out of the air, then say that God completely fulfills those adjectives. “It seems to me,” Hugh writes, “these assertions are incoherent and/or vacuous. Ransacking the dictionary for adjectives to throw at God is no way to come up with a consistent or meaningful definition.”

The God of theologians, he continued, seems to be an abstract concept, not a material entity. Abstract concepts exist outside of space and time. So how, Hugh wondered, can a human being have a relationship with such a concept?

Happily, Hugh has been involved in the comment section of Tuesday’s post, clarifying and expanding his question:

As I see it, there is a basic disconnect between the thought processes of scientists and those of theologians. The former start with evidence, and follow it where it leads. Of course you can postulate a theory and then look for evidence to support it. But if the evidence isn’t forthcoming, your theory won’t last long and another theory will replace it. Overall, the process is: start with evidence and follow it to conclusions.

By contrast, theologians start with the assumption that a god exists, corresponds to some scriptural tradition, and has X, Y and Z characteristics. Then they work backwards to rationalize this belief, even if it means redefining god radically in the process. Science is about explanation while theology is about rationalization.

Well, Hugh, you’ve raised a host of issues, so I’ll do my best to answer them.

First off, I agree with you. Lots of theologians talk about God in a way that, to you as an atheist, must seem incomprehensible and incoherent. In one of your comments, you quote two theologians to provide an example of what you’re talking about:

“God is the ground of all being.” -Paul Tillich

“God is timeless and spaceless.” -William Lane Craig

Let’s take those quotes in reverse order. Craig doesn’t actually say what you attribute to him, except to negate it. Before creation, Craig asserts, God was all there was, so God was therefore without time and space — because time and space did not exist. But from the moment of creation, God became temporal. Here’s how Craig says it:

“Once time begins at the moment of creation, God either becomes temporal in virtue of his real, causal relation to time and the world or else he exists as timelessly with creation as he does sans creation. But this second alternative seems quite impossible. At the first moment of time, God stands in a new relation in which he did not stand before…this is a real, causal relation which is at that moment new to God and which he does not have in the state of existing sans creation.” (Questions of Time and Tense, 222)

In this, I agree with Craig, and I think that it confronts your charge that theologians talk of God as immaterial — a pure concept existing outside of space and time. The problem I have with Craig’s assertion — and you might agree with me here — is that God undergoes some fundamental change in character at the moment of the creation of the cosmos. I think that raises the question: Was God “more God” before creation, or did creation somehow make God complete?

That is, it seems unlikely that God would undergo a major change (going from an atemporal being to a temporal being) without somehow becoming more or less God. Thus, I am inclined to believe that God was a temporal, material being before and after creation. Of course, I cannot prove this — but I’ll get to that.

Your quote of Paul Tillich is one that theologians love to use; it’s clever and pithy, and I think it’s a great example of the tendency among some theologians to invent a phrase (“ground of all being”) and then say that God completely fulfills that definition. Basically, he’s doing just what you like least about theologians: Tillich is not playing by the rules.

But what rules? You express a great deal of confidence in science. “Science is cumulative,” you argue, “This is its essential feature. There is nothing corresponding to this in theology, because there is no objective way of deciding between competing assertions.”

Hugh, science plays by a set of rules, but art plays by a different set of rules, and literature by a still different set. Or, another way to say it is that various fields of human endeavor have various sets of rules — you might also call these “rationalities.” Sometimes these sets of rules overlap, sometimes they do not. For instance, I’d say that the rules by which one writes poetry and the rules by which one does chemistry have very little overlap. But philosophy and theology have a much greater overlap.

So this is what I don’t get about many atheists: you ask theologians to play by a particular rationality in which you have faith — i.e., the rationality of scientific inquiry — but you don’t ask poetry or photography or music or philosophy to play by those rules. And let me tell you, Plato didn’t play by the rules of scientific inquiry.

While we’re on Plato, let’s circle back to your charge that God is a concept, and a human being cannot have a personal relationship with a concept. In that, I agree with you. If there is a God, then God is not a concept; God is a personal being.

This whole God-is-a-concept thing is Plato’s fault. Plato, unlike his contemporaries who thought that the gods were like middle schoolers who lived and argued and slept around on Mt. Olympus, said that God was an immaterial Mind (νοῦς, nous). That’s never been the orthodox Christian position (although I admit that many Christians talk that way — Plato casts a long shadow). In Christianity, and earlier in Judaism, God, though uncreated, is paradoxically part of creation, in relationship with creation.

So, let me sum up:

- I agree that it is an incoherent way to argue when theologians make up categories for God and they argue that God fulfills those categories.

- I defend theologians’ (like Tillich’s) right to play by a set of rules that is not the set by which scientists play.

- I, myself, am not very interested in doing theology that is incomprehensible to an atheist like you.

- I agree that human beings cannot have a relationship with a concept, but I do not think that God is a concept.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Hugh, as well as the thoughts of other readers. Thanks again for your question.

  • Sven

    So you agree that theologians come across as incomprehensible when they make up odd categories for God to fill, but you defend their “right” to make up their own rules?

    Then it isn’t really resolved, is it? Theology is STILL incomprehensible vacuous nonsense!

    • Evelyn

      I’m trying to figure out what you mean by “vacuous”.
      Here’s my data:
      On Dictionary.com, vacuous is defined as:
      Vacuous [vak-yoo-uhs] adjective:
      1. without contents; empty: the vacuous air.
      2. lacking in ideas or intelligence: a vacuous mind.
      3. expressing or characterized by a lack of ideas or intelligence; inane; stupid: a vacuous book.
      4. purposeless; idle: a vacuous way of life.

      According to Wikipedia:
      A vacuous truth is a truth that is devoid of content because it asserts something about all members of a class that is empty or because it says “If A then B” when in fact A is inherently false. For example, the statement “all cell phones in the room are turned off” may be true simply because there are no cell phones in the room. In this case, the statement “all cell phones in the room are turned on” would also be true, and vacuously so, as would the conjunction of the two: “all cell phones in the room are turned on and turned off”.

      This notion has relevance in pure mathematics, as well as in any other field which uses classical logic.

      Examples of “classical logic”: Aristotle’s Organon, Boolean algebra, Gottlob Frege’s Begriffsschrift (which influences logical positivism).

      Here’s my commentary:
      I’m not a trained theologican (with an intentional “c”) so I can’t speak for them but it seems that theologicans use elements of classical logic to prove their points. You can say that their arguments are vacuous if you disagree with their original assumption, that a something which they call “God” exists, but this could be true of everything we claim to know. All knowledge and logic starts with an assumption.

      In the words of Wittgenstein:
      “At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.”

      What do you mean by “vacuous”?

      • http://bkocka.wordpress.com/ Brianna Kocka

        You said exactly what I was thinking. Thanks for this.

      • Sven

        Sure science makes assumptions. The problem with theology is that the assumption is also the conclusion. If “God exists” is the assumption you’re starting with, and “God exists” is the conclusion the end with, then there is nothing meaningful in between. Without contents. Empty. “Vacuous”.

        Theology is so incomprehensible because theologians are performing mental gymnastics to reconcile their certitude of “God’s” existence with the fact that “God” is invisible, intangible, unobservable, untestable, and unverifiable. In any practical sense, “God” is indistinguishable from nothingness. Here we come back to “vacuous”.

        • Larry Barber

          Sven, theologians aren’t generally interested in whether or not God exists, that is the job of philosophers. Scientists don’t generally start with proofs for the existance of a material world or the possibility of being able to measure it. They simply assume the existance of God and nature, respectively, neither the theologian nor the scientist feels compelled to offer proof.

          I’m reminded of story, possibly apochryphal, that I once heard of a dialogue between a skeptic and a theologian:

          skeptic: Can you prove the existance of God?
          theologian: Let me think about that for a moment ….
          (a little bit later, the theologian hasn’t said anything)
          skeptic: Ha! I knew you couldn’t do it!
          theologian: I’m trying to think of a something more obvious than God’s existance so I have a place to start the proof.

          Of course to a so-called skeptic no theology is valid because they don’t think the starting assumptions are valid. Similarly, someone who was skeptical about the existance of nature (maybe they believe in the “brain in a vat” hypotheses) would not be impressed by what scientists discover.

          • Sven

            The scientific “assumption” of nature is quite different from the theological “assumption” of God.

            For starters, natural law is observable and testable. It can be explored. New insights can be discovered. Sometimes nature can surprise us. Sometimes we can apply natural law to make predictions in advance of actually discovering something. (As an example, evolution posits that there is a biological mechanism for passing inheritable traits to offspring, and that mechanism is also subject to mutation. Many years later, we discovered DNA). Bad hypotheses can be falsified (proven wrong) and discarded.

            “God” is neither observable nor testable. “God” cannot be explored. New aspects of “God” cannot be discovered. “God” cannot surprise us, nor can “God” be predicted or modeled. Theology is incapable of falsifying anything. No religion has ever proven another religion to be fallacious.

            There is a bigger difference here than a disagreement about premises. Theology is nothing like science or any other tried-and-proven means of finding truth.

          • Larry Barber

            OK Sven, for starters, can you prove there is such a thing as “natural laws”? In a materialist universe, where are they “written”? Or do you just assume that there are such things? The difference between the scientist and the theologian is not as great as you think. True, they use different rules, and empirical testability isn’t a big feature of theology, but empiricism isn’t the only valid test of the truth of something. It’s also true in the current culture the assumptions of science seem much more plausible than the assumptions of theologians, but that is a mere cultural artifact. In other times and places the opposite was true.

          • Sven

            Testing and applying natural law to get a predictable result is a pretty good indicator that a given natural law exists.

            For example: the practical application of basic laws of physics, such as gravity and inertia, allow NASA to send probes to the Moon and Mars with incredible accuracy.

            The assumption that gravity exists and works in a predictable way is not a leap of faith. It’s based on observation and repeatable experimentation.

            The reason science is held to a higher standard in our contemporary culture is because it WORKS. It gets RESULTS. The fact that other places and times have a contrary view doesn’t change its validity.

          • Evelyn

            God’s law is observable and testable. It can be explored. New insights can be discovered. Sometimes God can surprise us. Sometimes we can apply God’s law to make predictions in advance of actually discovering something. (As an example, Jesus posits that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. We often see bellicose people dying by the sword). There are no “bad” hypotheses because we honor everyone’s right to their own opinion.

            “Nature” is neither observable nor testable. “Nature” cannot be explored. New aspects of “Nature” cannot be discovered. “Nature” cannot surprise us, nor can “Nature” be predicted or modeled. Science is incapable of predicting the weather, an earthquake, the economy, or whether a woman is going to divorce her husband if she finds him in bed with someone else. It is admirable that no religion has ever proven another religion to be fallacious.

          • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

            Sven; I hate to tell you this, but “nature IS observable and testable”, that’s actually a premise. And, sorry theists, it is still a very powerful premise. Science has not discovered that nature is testable, it began with that premise and has got us to moon. When people began to doubt theology, and to doubt Plato, they had to ask, “so how DO we figure things out?” The best way to do that is to begin with a premise that seems plausible. Another important “rule” is that if good reasons arise to question the premise, then you do that. So far, after a 1,000 years, no one has come up with a good reason to question Sven’s premise.

        • Evelyn

          Your life is indistinguishable from nothingness, Sven. First, you don’t exist, then you are born, then you do a bunch of mental gymnastics to rationalize your meaningless actions, and then you die leaving nothing but a pile of garbage in your wake. You are nothing. Vacuous.

          Science is vacuous unless, by the grace of God, someone has an intuition that allows them to form a new theory. Scientists learn something, find out what their colleagues want to hear, write a proposal that they think will get funded to investigate something that they already know, send it to a funding agency, assuming it gets funded they perform a bunch of mental gymnastics using proven methodology, and then write a paper about what they knew to be the case in the first place but put a little spin on it to make it seem like they’ve done something new. Then they die leaving nothing but a pile of useless publications. See what I mean. Vacuous.

          • Sven

            Unlike “God”, I am visible, tangible, observable, testable, and verifiable. Nothing vacuous about that.

            I can explain this to you, but I cannot comprehend it for you.

          • Luke Allison

            Sven,

            Is every aspect of you testable and verifiable?

          • Sven

            The fact that there is ANY aspect of me that is testable and verifiable already sets me apart from “God”.

            I have been answering many questions. Now I will I pose some:

            Has theology ever shown a hypothesis (scientific or theological) to be false?
            Has the study of theology ever yielded any accurate predictions?
            Are there any practical applications of anything “learned” from theology?
            Is there any aspect of theology that is testable?
            Is every type of theology (Christian theology, Muslim theology, Buddhist theology, etc) equally valid, or is any one more valid than others? If so, why?

          • Evelyn

            Sven, you are invisible, intangible, unobservable, untestable, and unverifiable. The only part of you that I see are words on a page and they are not you. I don’t even know that you have a material existence.

          • Evelyn

            Wow, Sven, you are really into invalidation.
            “Has theology ever shown a hypothesis (scientific or theological) to be false?”
            I’ve already shown this hypothesis to be false: God’s law can’t be used to make predictions in advance of actually discovering something.

            “Has the study of theology ever yielded any accurate predictions?” Yes. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
            “Are there any practical applications of anything “learned” from theology?” Yes. Do unto others as you’d expect others to do unto you.
            “Is there any aspect of theology that is testable?” Yes. When you sin, your life generally sucks and is more difficult than it has to be.
            “Is every type of theology (Christian theology, Muslim theology, Buddhist theology, etc) equally valid, or is any one more valid than others? If so, why?” No. People with bad theologies tend to kill themselves off.

          • NateW

            Hi Sven. Just thought I’d jump in and let you know that, as a Christian and a friend, I agree with you. Theology, as a science of defining, explaining, or defending God, is vacuous on its best of days. The book of Ecclesiastes calls man’s quest to find meaning via philosophy and knowledge “Vanity, and a striving afterthe wind” which could also be literally translated as “Emptiness, and feeding upon, (or grasping at) the wind.”

            Ecclesiastes 3:9-13
            The God- Given Task
            9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil —this is God ‘s gift to man.

            The true aim of theology is not to find certainty regarding the existence of God, nor to convince men to believe the “right” facts about God. Proper Theology concerns not WHAT we believe so much as HOW we might best live in a world that–we have to admit–seems to exist within the vacuum born of the space from which God is absent. We tend to think of theology as a means to bolster our faith and move ourselves nearer to God, but the truth is that real theology is more concerned with discerning how we might fully embrace this world according to the way of Christ.

          • MarkE

            Sven:
            To your questions, I would say:
            Yes (at least some theological ones, at least rationally convincing)
            Yes (not of the earthquake type)
            Yes
            No (probably not of the kind that would satisfy you, otherwise, yes)
            The last one is not a yes-no. None of them would meet your scientific standard, but all of them could be discussed rationally and some would find some traditions more convincing or fruitful than others.

          • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

            From Jurgen Moltmann’s book, The Crucified God:

            “Christian theology must be theology of the cross, if it is to be identified as Christian theology through Christ. But the theology of th cross is a critical and liberating theory of God and man. Christian life is a form of practice which consists in following the crucified Christ, and it changes both man himself an the circumstances in which he lives. To this extent, a theology of th cross is a practical theory.”

            To have “right Theology” is nothing less than to live as one following Christ to the cross. To believe “right” things about God is more than meaningless in the absence of a daily, moment by moment love that would sacrifice everything, including one’s own status as a “Christian” todemonstrate love for both the oppressed and their oppressors.

            This is Christ, and anyone who argues that Christianity hinges on the sure existence of God does not yet fully know what it means to follow Christ.

          • Evelyn

            That’s very good about love for both the oppressed and their oppressors. However, there is a purpose to this love and that purpose is gained understanding and spiritual growth. With perpetually gained understanding we perpetually bring Christ down from the cross and bring ourselves closer to knowing God (who (or which) is perpetually unknowable).

            Don’t stop at worshiping a suffering man just for the “sake” of it and symbolically eating his dead body. That is disgusting.

  • Zach

    Well said, Tony.

  • Zach

    I still like the eastern concept of theology: the experience of the love of God.

  • Andrew

    Could you elaborate on the rules? I’ve had similar thoughts to Hugh, particularly with regard to how theologians judge between competing truth claims. Scientists appeal to evidence–what’s more, science has a fairly good track record of arriving at answers that seem to be demonstrably true via their applications in medicine, technology, etc. But what can theologians appeal to in order to judge competing truth claims? And in what realm can the conclusions theologians reach be tested for accuracy?

    Your point about literature and art are well-taken–however, in these disciplines audiences and critics can at least appeal to the text/painting/sculpture, and the artists have “data” in the form of the reception their work receives, its effect in real human societies and on individuals, as well as the history of what did and didn’t work for their predecessors, etc. (This assumes that art is fundamentally a social endeavor, about what art does rather than what it is, which I believe.)

    Anyway, this is all to say that after your reference to rules, I’d like to hear you elaborate those rules.

  • Hugh

    Tony, thanks once again for posting my question, and thanks to all who took part in this discussion. At the risk of wearing out my welcome, let me take issue with something you wrote above, and I’ll try to be brief:

    So this is what I don’t get about many atheists: you ask theologians to play by a particular rationality in which you have faith — i.e., the rationality of scientific inquiry — but you don’t ask poetry or photography or music or philosophy to play by those rules. And let me tell you, Plato didn’t play by the rules of scientific inquiry.

    Different fields of human activity have different rules and different goals. (Even photography for example can have different goals at different times – e.g. art or forensics or scientific investigation.) The goal of science is to find out what is out there in objective reality – what would still exist even if humans didn’t exist. I can already hear people saying, “wait a minute, you can’t prove that objective reality exists.” That’s true – we could all be brains in a tank, or my brain might be the only one that existed. But science has to start somewhere, and using methodological naturalism as a working assumption has proven extraordinarily successful and has expanded human knowledge explosively in the last couple of centuries.

    Philosophy sometimes intersects with science, but most often it is on a different game board so of course it plays by a different set of rules. Philosophy is often very “meta” and self-referential but at its best it helps us to clarify our thinking, and keeps us honest so that we can do science better. The example of Karl Popper insisting on falsifiability springs to mind.

    So where does theology fit in? Obviously it intersects philosophy a lot. But if it claims that God exists (in the sense I’ve used previously, existing independently of human existence and perception rather than merely as a concept in peoples’s minds), then that is a claim about the actual state of affairs in the universe, i.e. a claim that scientists have an interest in addressing – especially if it is also claimed that this God will cast us into Hell if we don’t obey his rules. Is this claim testable? Falsifiable? I don’t think so, and I’m not sure the concept of God is even coherent. Apart from the problem of evil, there are separate problems with omniscience, ominpotence etc. but I won’t go into that here.

    I mentioned above science’s great track record in expanding human knowledge. Have there been any breakthroughs in theology in the last few centuries, that have given us a deeper, more detailed and more confidently held understanding of God? Have these breakthroughs achieved worldwide consensus? I’m not even talking about experiments and observations and the other rules of science here – I just don’t see that theology has been anywhere as successful as science, let alone being the “queen of sciences”.

    Anyway I’ve said my piece, and I just want to close by saying that it’s been a very interesting and enjoyable experience joining the discussion here. I really appreciate everyone discussing this question in a calm and welcoming manner, and it was interesting to see the diversity of conceptions of God in this forum. Thanks again!

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Hugh, two thoughts:

      1) You’re letting philosophy off the hook too easily. Philosophers make similar claims all the time, like “Truth exists.” And, when they ask “What is the meaning of life?”, they’re assuming that life has a meaning. Did they prove this first? Do they need to?

      2) Theology actually doesn’t spend that much time thinking about whether God exists. Like you say, it’s often taken for granted (just as the accuracy of scientific method is often taken for granted in science). More often these days, theologians are doing what we call “theo-poetics,” which is how I account for writing like Tillch’s in the post above.

      Thanks again for being part of this conversation.

  • http://disembodiedbeard.net Logan Robertson

    The only thing I’d add is to say that saying “God does not exist” is a perfectly acceptable, and orthodox, Christian thing to say. That is, God as “being” has no being that exists within our concept of being. Here, I suppose, I am just falling back on Tillich, though. And yet I must close with Kierkegaard and insist that we negate our negation and insist on the existence of the divine, embracing the tension of paradox with faith. Cheers!

  • MarkE

    Hugh, thanks for taking the time to present your question and thoughtful comments with a gracious attitude. I like that about you. That said, here are my observations about this discussion.

    On its face, the question does not seem that difficult, but maybe I am missing something.

    We use incoherent (where coherence results in scientific verifiability) language because that is all we have available to use. We all know that God cannot be scientifically verifiable (at least using the direct scientific method), so that language is not an option. Our attempts to describe God are not meant to be scientifically convincing – we know that is not possible.

    You want to know why believers use scientifically vacuous language to talk about God? Because we want to think and talk about the God we believe in, and we use the language that we think might be descriptive of that God. If you are suggesting we need to do so with epistemological humility, I agree. Arrogance and certitude is uncalled for.

    Seems the real issue is not why we talk the way we do, but the fact that we believe without scientifically verifiable evidence. That’s really a separate question. In the absence of scientifically verifiable evidence, belief in God arises for other reasons (e.g., need/search for meaning and purpose, personal experiences). We could argue about those other reasons, but they would not be scientific ones. I understand that may be a deal breaker for you, but it is not for others. You don’t have to listen, but let us keep talking. Once you move past the existence-nonexistence issue, there is lots to interesting and, hopefully, good things to talk about.

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      MarkE; What I just heard is, you know God doesn’t exist, but you want him to, so you’ll find a way to talk him about him that is non-falisfiable, you’ll make up definitions and circular arguments and say you are talking about something real.

  • Jean

    Hugh, I agree with MarkE – thanks for your gracious and respectful willingness to engage in dialogue. As you took issue with Tony, let me take issue with you on one small detail in your last post. You said:

    “So where does theology fit in? Obviously it intersects philosophy a lot. But if it claims that God exists (in the sense I’ve used previously, existing independently of human existence and perception rather than merely as a concept in peoples’s minds), then that is a claim about the actual state of affairs in the universe, i.e. a claim that scientists have an interest in addressing – especially if it is also claimed that this God will cast us into Hell if we don’t obey his rules. Is this claim testable? Falsifiable? I don’t think so, and I’m not sure the concept of God is even coherent.”

    The part I have trouble with in that statement is the part about God casting us into Hell if we don’t obey. This, along with the virgin birth and the old white man with the long beard who sits in the sky, seems to be a favorite sticking point in some (and I emphasize some) atheists’ arguments. But statements like that tend to lump all believers in God into one fairly narrow pigeonhole, and thereby derailing the discussion. There are many, many Christians who don’t believe in hell, and there are many, many believers in God who aren’t Christians. Be careful of generalizations, and I promise I will do the same.

  • NateW

    Tony – “I think that raises the question: Was God “more God” before creation, or did creation somehow make God complete?”

    I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that God was fully God before creation, and will be eternally (or timelessly) “All-In-All” again, but that with creation He has entered into a very real self-sacrificial giving up of part of his essential nature. If, without creation, God simply “IS”, then to create that which is temporal and finite is not so much creation from “nothing” but creation by pulling back or withdrawing part of what IS. One bubble renders an infinite ocean finite. Unless we could says that everything in the world is part of God then I don’t see how creation would be possible without God sacrificing part of himself and disrupting his otherwise eternal triune union.

    I think this is part of what it means to say that all things were created in and through Christ, and are sustained in being by Him. It is not his might and Power that are the tools of creation, but that to which the entirety of his life, death and resurrection speak. To say that all was created in and through Christ is like saying that all was created through self-sacrificial love. Thus, Christ’s word of God’s self-sacrificing, unconditional, love truly has been spoken in creation from the dawn of time, though not made manifestly clear until Christ demonstrated in physical terms what has always been so that we might believe that His love is the governing rule and principle that holds all things together and join with him in reconciling all creation, and, finally, reuniting the trinitarian union of God as we are adopted into it. I think that this what is hinted at when it is said that Christ was subjected to death but has been raised and now sits at the right hand of the father until the final enemy, death itself, is finally destroyed and that he will then rejoin God so that God will again be all-in-all. (1 cor. 15:20-28)

    We always say that Christ is the physical manifestation of God in relation to Man, but I think we sort leave the crucifixion out of that idea. We talk about Christ demonstrating how great God’s love for us is, but we don’t really take seriously the idea that an essential part of God’s plan in creation involved his own self-sacrifice from the beginning and that, perhaps, his self-sacrifice continues until his love, through our hands, feet, and action, brings about the reconciliation of all things.

    If so, we truly serve a crucified God. From that perspective it becomes evident that there is good reason that Theology seems vacuous and God seems to be be very absent from the world. He appears to be absent because he IS absent until he is resurrected in the love of each person who joins him in self sacrificial love for their neighbors and enemies. In a very real way, God has placed his very being into into our hands to be either crucified again, or embodied in our Love.

    • Marshall

      I was going to say something similar, about God before and after Creation … still trying to understand the Trinity here … but don’t we have the Second Person “causally related to creation” in a way that the First Person is not??

      • NateW

        I can see what your saying, I think. If I had to concretely say how the trinity is is involved in creation I think I would say something like, God the Father created all things through Christ, by the Spirit. Or, perhaps, God the Father willed that the Son be the instrument of creation wielded by the Spirit.

        Of course, all words will always fail to describe such things, but I hope I hope that helps!

  • MarkE

    For Sven, Hugh, or other atheists out there.

    What advice would you have for the poor guy (I will call him Bob) that actually WAS abducted by aliens? Not talking about the experience would probably be good advice. Few, if any, will believe it happened and just think he was a nut. Most would offer alternative explanations that would require Bob to discount or reinterpret what he experienced to a significant degree. That would be easier for the advice giver than for Bob. Bob could discount it, but he would lose something. If he tried to accept the experience, he has the problem of if and how he should talk about it.

    Many people have had experiences different from but of the same kind as Bob’s. Once, when I was a young man, I had single, observable (by me at least – my roommate was there and heard it, but had his eyes closed at the key time) physical experience that defied the laws of gravity (I will take my advice to Bob and not talk about the details). It only happened once. It was not predictable and most probably not replicable, so the scientific method is no help. I am not suggesting it was God, but it certainly wasn’t something “natural.” How do you think I should talk about that experience, if I was inclined?

    When I have talked about that experience with my sympathetic friends, none of them believed the event happened that way I described it. They all offered alternative, rational explanations (e.g., Them: “Were you on drugs at the time?” Me: “Not at that time.”). I always listened to and considered their alternative explanations, but in the end, I had to make a decision about what I believe happened.

    For many, believing in God is kind of like being abducted by aliens. How do you propose we talk about that?

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      “abducted by aliens” and “defying gravity” are explanations of other physical sensations. Instead of jumping to a conclusion like that, first describe the events and sensations in detail. After that, you can begin to speculate about the cause. If you are going to say you defied gravity, you should have a good understanding of what gravity is and be able to describe how one “defies” it. If it is not repeatable, there just anything the rest of us can do. It was your experience and it will never happen again. That’s it.

  • Scott Gay

    My comments revolve around being surprised and that at the age of 36. In the words of an older rock and blues musician…..”I been surprised”. And his song gets me in its progression, because I was worn down, mostly just about me. And I started on this road that was initiated by reading a theologian, but took on a journey all its own. The truth is very hard to put into words but so, so surprised. In my thoughts and words then it was freedom. Not a knowledge thing as much as experiential. But thinking so, so alive…..joy from the bottom of my toes to those tingling hairs around my bald spot. I get chills thinking about it. It’s just like people try describe when witnessing the birth of one of their children. It’s natural, but also a miracle.

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      That’s a great definition of miracle. The problems arise when someone has an experience like yours, then tells others that they must read the same theologian or even a similar one and that if they don’t have the same experience then there is something wrong with them. Most of theology has this built into it, it is attempting to convince you why you should follow Christ, or it claims as its source of inspiration Christ or some other god.

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