God Is Not Apophatic (Because I Can't Say "God Is Not Love")

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been exploring apophatic statements about God.  I am, as I’ve admitted, drawn to the apophatic.  I suppose it’s because that I struggle intellectually with the whole concept of God and particularly with statements that anthropomorphize God — which is just about every statement that I ever hear uttered about God.

As I have written posts about what God is not, I’ve known that there’s one statement that would be the zenith of apophatic theology.  And I’ve also known that if I cannot write a post in defense of that statement, then I’d hit the limit of apophaticism.  That statement is:

God Is Not Love.

And I cannot affirm that.  Try as I might, I cannot figure out how to justify that sentence.  Maybe Pete can, but I cannot.  (Pete, are you listening?)

But, maybe this is exactly the beauty of apophatic theology, which is meant to remind us that God is not sum-up-able.  God cannot be definitively articulated, not even by apophatic theology.

Can God be articulated by God?

N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.

God Is Not Static

One thing that I do not understand about the hyper-Reformed is this contradiction in their theology.  One the one hand, they maintain that God is impassible — God does not change and, even more troubling to me, God does not grieve.  But on the other hand, they often proclaim that God’s wrath burns white hot at me because of my sin.

Well, I’m not the first to proclaim the very opposite, but I’ll reaffirm it here: God Is Not Unchanging.  And the corollary, God is not impassible.

The biblical narrative is clear that God changes God’s mind — in fact, it happens explicitly several times in the Hebrew Scriptures — and God indeed grieves.  But, most significantly, in Jesus, God took the initiative to change the entire dynamic in the divine-human relationship.  The Christ event was nothing less that a 180-degree change in God.  (Okay, maybe not 180 — maybe more like 94°.)

N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.

God Is Not Emergent

I had the unhappy experience of listening to yet another online conversation yesterday in which two erstwhile and, I would have assumed, friends of emergent went to great lengths to distance themselves from emergent, taking pains to say that they are not affiliated with “the capital ‘E’ emergent brand.”  Meanwhile, on the Huffington Post, Phil Shepherd says,

In the years of unpacking my faith journey, I found that I was not alone in this conversation. In fact, that there were others all around the world who were going through the same type of deconstruction that I was! The emergent conversation (not labeled with this title until some years later) was a life raft for many of us.

Well, whatever emergent Christianity is — dead or alive, a marketing brand or a conversation — God is not it.

Emergent is, and has been, the banner under which some of us have gathered as we’ve searched for a new way to go about living faithfully.  It’s a way that involves intellectual challenge, the pursuit of ancient spiritual disciplines, the formation of new faith communities, the revitalization of conventional churches, and, most significantly, friendships.

But each of these characteristics is obviously human.  The emergent way of Christianity is just as humanly constructed, finite, and open to deconstruction as any other way of faith.  And this is the very thing that God is not.  God is not deconstructible.  God shows no favoritism to emergents.

N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.

God Is Not Just

Definitions of “just” and why God is not that:

1.) merely: and nothing more; “I was merely asking”; “it is simply a matter of time”; “just a scratch”; “he was only a child”; “hopes that last but a moment”

God is not merely anything. God is always the unexpected more.

2.) precisely: indicating exactness or preciseness; “he was doing precisely (or exactly) what she had told him to do”; “it was just as he said–the jewel was gone”; “it has just enough salt”

“Precise” implies the ability of something to be pinned down, scrutinized, and measured, which God most assuredly is not.

3.) only a moment ago; “he has just arrived”; “the sun just now came out”

If God is a moment ago, God is also the next moment; God is both the distant past and the eternal future.

4.) absolutely; “I just can’t take it anymore”; “he was just grand as Romeo”

God’s absoluteness demolishes all absolutes, including God’s own absoluteness.

5.) equitable: fair to all parties as dictated by reason and conscience; “equitable treatment of all citizens”; “an equitable distribution of gifts among the children”

Although we wish God to be, God is not equitable.  The rain does, indeed, fall on the just and the unjust alike, but God’s creation is rife with creatures who are preternaturally endowed with more resources than other creatures.  Humankind’s history is a string of stories about the struggle for limited resources, not to share them equitably, but to hoard them and lord them over others.  And, like it or not, God allows this pattern to continue unabated.  Even the biblical narrative is one of unmerited favor upon some and destruction of others.

6.) barely: only a very short time before; “they could barely hear the speaker”; “just missed being hit”

God may be barely God, but God is also exceedingly God.

7.) fair: free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules; “a fair referee”; “fair deal”; “on a fair footing”; “a fair fight”; “by fair means or foul”

One word: Israel.

8.) exactly at this moment or the moment described; “we’ve just finished painting the walls, so don’t touch them”

God may be temporal, but God is not able to be pinned down to a moment.

9.) good: of moral excellence; “a genuinely good person”; “a just cause”; “an upright and respectable man”

Here, of course, is the real rub, for this is what Christians most often mean when we say, “God is just.”  But good is by definition a relative descriptor, in the mix of “good, better, best.”  One man’s good is another man’s “not-good-enough.”  You give me a working definition of “good” (or, for that matter, “equitable”), and I’ll give you a half-dozen biblical examples of why God is not good, by your definition.

N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.