What God is Not: An Apophatic Account of the Divine

What God is Not: An Apophatic Account of the Divine February 4, 2019

My professional life exists at the intersection of creativity, God, and the church; which means my career has been made by trying to describe the indescribable. I work with words–whether with songs or prose–that are patently inadequate to the task I’ve been given.

When I was young, I thought my job was to help people see God. Now I think my job is to help people let go of the God they mistakenly think they see. I cannot tell you the number of times each week I say, “God’s not like that.”

So, here’s my best attempt at an apophatic theology of God. My attempt to acknowledge the reality that God can most accurately be described by saying what God is not…

 

God is not a thing in the universe. God is no-thing, but nothing exists apart from God, and nothing has its source outside of God.

God is not a being like other beings, not a thing among other things. Yet, God is not impersonal. God is not like me, though I am made in God’s image. God does not have a body, has no parts, is not the sum of any parts, and God’s being is indivisible. God is unbegotten, unseen, and indescribable. God is not a concept or first principle, but nothing can be explained or comprehended without reference to God. God cannot be understood, summed-up, categorized, or explained. Yet, God is undeniable and inseparable from the human experience.

God lacks nothing, has no limits in capacity or power, and is not subject to unwanted change. God is uncoerced. God is not static, but does not change for the better or the worse. God is not bounded by time or space, and is not relationally constrained. God is not limited in regard to truth, goodness, and beauty.

God is not vindictive or judgmental. God is not confused by my brokenness or put off by the pain I cause myself and others. God will never leave me or forsake me, even when I wish God would just leave me alone. God is not petty or anxious. God is not trying to make me anxious or afraid, but God’s presence is not always a comfort. God is not constrained by my ideas about God, and is unmoved by my sentimentality. God does not need anything. God does not need to punish or kill.

God has no limitations other than the ones God chooses for God’s self. God is not what I want God to be. God does not work evil. God does not destroy human freedom. Yet, God is not constrained by the same human principles I cling to, even things like justice, patience, fairness, or freedom. God is not bound to any human categories, philosophies, epistemologies, or ethics. God is neither subject, nor subjective. God is not either/or. God does not exist in any mode that I can adequately apprehend or describe apart from metaphor, mystery, wonder, and awe.

God is never gone, absent, or missing in action. Yet, God is also not obvious, prosaic, or overt. God us unseeable, but not un-detectible. God is unconcealed, but not plain to see. God is undisguised, but often imperceptible. God is not what I want God to be, but God is not lacking in what I most certainly need.

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