To Say God, We Must Unsay God

To Say God, We Must Unsay God June 28, 2017

Tomb of Jacob Roblès by Antoine-Augustin Préault [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Tomb of Jacob Roblès by Antoine-Augustin Préault CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
It is one thing to speak about God, it is another thing to speak correctly about God. It is easy to say God, it is much harder to properly say God and do so in a way which does not end up undermining God. When we turn God into an object, when we turn God into a thing, we have undermined God, and yet that is exactly what we do when we say God and then speak of what we say, if we do not at the same time unsay God and reject everything which we say as the only foundation for which we can once again say God. This is not because we deny God, but we deny what we say about God for the sake of God who is beyond our comprehension, as the great Pseudo-Dionysius once proclaimed:

However, think of this not in terms of deprivation but rather in terms of transcendence and then you will be able to say something truer than all truth, namely, that the unknowing regarding God escapes anyone possessing physical light and knowledge of beings: His transcendent darkness remains hidden from all light and concealed from all knowledge. Someone beholding God and understanding what he saw has not actually seen God himself but rather something of his which has being and which is knowable. [1]

God is the ultimate free subject, the subject in whom all others subjects find their subjectivity; to be objectified is to deny his subjectivity and to render God ungodly. We speak of God in all kinds of ways, but when we fail to understand that we are speaking of God with human conventions, we end up absolutizing those conventions and establishing God as an object of our thought. What we speak of would then end up losing the proper absolute subjectivity which is God, and so what we say, even if we say it is God, ends up not being God but merely a simulacrum of God which can never be God. What we end up discussing is an object of our minds; at best, we have something derived from God and directly connected to him such as the uncreated energies of God, and so truly represents God but still is not God in his essence, and at worst, we establish a devilish imitation of God which will hinder our spiritual progression through our self-made delusion.

Yet, as our hearts cry out to God, we find, despite our limitations, we must try to say God. In doing so, as we speak from our hearts, we speak with words of love, looking to God as our beloved, describing God as a lover describes their beloved. This is properly done through poetic language, with the best of what we say being symbolic, capable of engaging the presence of God and having God in it, and yet masking and hiding the transcendence of God in a form which we can receive. It is flowery and beautiful, as the glory of God is encountered in and through our works, and yet they remain pointers to the fullness of God who in his essence cannot be spoken. Analogy, metaphor, sign, symbol, these are the best tools we have in order to speak of God, to try to say God, and yet when we do, we must always underscore God in his essence, God in his pure subjectivity, has not been said by us. The only one who can say God is God himself, the Word which is God because only the Word which is God can contain God and truly speak God.

And so it goes. We try to say God. We speak. We say. We point. We reach out to God with our words. Our love makes us do it. We want to say God, for we know, in saying God, we have God with us. And yet each time we speak, we know at once we are right and wrong. We are right. This is what our heart points to. This is our true desire. This is our love. And yet, we know, we have not yet attained God, we have not truly said God. We must look at all our words and say not this, not this, not this, and not even this – each word we speak, each concept which we make, says God, and yet it does not. We must deny our words. We must unspeak right after we speak. We must unsay and empty ourselves of all that we have said, so that we can try and try and try some more to say God. We hope we can say God. We want to say God. We want to speak and have our beloved truly said. We speak. We describe. We understand and yet it is because of what we understand, because of the higher intuition of the heart, we deny once again – we speak and then we deny, only to speak again. We must speak. We must deny. We must do both. The speaking reveals God is, the denial reveals we cannot truly say God. And yet we must. We must say God.

In the silence which comes from our unsaying, in the silence which we make as a denial of our speech, God comes to us; in our self-denial, we open ourselves up even more to God and to love. As we empty ourselves, we see ourselves truly impoverished, truly without God because we cannot speak God. We become silent and morose. We speak God some more, only to deny ourselves and deny what we speak. We silence ourselves. We cry. We mourn. And yet in that silence, in the pain of the heart, we have God.

For it is in our self-denial, we show our true love; we deny what we speak so we can affirm what we speak, and so we deny ourselves of what we speak so we can truly open up and find the word which will say God.  We cannot do it ourselves. We try to say God. Softly or loudly, we speak, our hearts cry out, and yet we once again deny. We speak and then we deny, for we know we have not yet truly spoken. Again and again we speak, we make noise, and then we silence ourselves and find in the silence the God who comes in silence, who affirms our silence in his silence on Holy Saturday.

That is where we find ourselves. We speak, and then we deny. We feel in our speech and in our denial the same: we are without God. That is where we are, poor in spirit, great in love, crying out God and yet not saying God. Crying out, trying to speak only to have tears come forth from our labor. In the poverty of spirit, in the denial and unsaying which comes forth, is the silence which draws the Word of God in to us – we cannot speak, but the Word which is God can speak, and comes to us and speaks, joining our impoverished word into himself. Our word becomes a part of the Word which is God. We find we can then speak that which we cannot speak because the Word takes our speech and makes it his; we speak and say God because in our self-denial of our speech, the Word comes to us and follows after us, denying himself, emptying himself, joining himself in his emptiness with our emptiness, so that in the unity of that empty silence, the Word is one with us in that silence. Finally, then, we find we can speak forth in that silence and truly say God.


[1] Pseudo-Dionysius, “Letter One” in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 263.


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