The Unknown God Beyond God

The Unknown God Beyond God January 5, 2017

God is great, and we know him not

Job 36:26 is such a striking statement in just about every translation. Some simply say that we do not know God. Others opt to render it in terms of our not understanding God.

A recent post on Jeff Hood’s blog connected the verse to Paul Tillich’s idea of the “God beyond God.”

By definition, a God that your mind can grasp doesn’t deserve the capital “G.” And therefore arrogant and dogmatic claims to comprehension are incompatible with authentic religious faith.

For a recent book that explores this theme in more detail, see Madhuri Yadlapati’s Against Dogmatism.

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  • It seems when thinkers use such phrases as “….God beyond God” that then language breaks down.

    How can there be “God beyond God” if God is the usual definition of the “ultimate or supreme reality”?

    How could there be anything ‘beyond’ the ultimate?

    Aren’t they then speaking of “North beyond North”;-)?

    • It is indeed intentionally paradoxical language, emphasizing that beyond any concept we have of God, any mental, verbal, or physical representation, is an even greater reality to which those symbols are pointers.

  • myklc

    YES! Paradox may be one of the best ways to open our minds to how limited in scope our minds (currently?) are. Imagining that we can in any way comprehend the author and creator of the universe is like putting the ocean in a bucket.
    It’s one of the reasons I enjoy zen koan, they demonstrate the limits of logic and reason.

    • Nick G

      Since “the author and creator of the universe” is a human invention, any failure to understand it simply means that it has not been depicted or imagined consistently.

      • myklc

        Assuming you’re making a purely atheist comment, my response would be “There, there.”
        Otherwise, I’d point you back to my ‘ocean in a bucket’ analogy. Our conceptual map just isn’t sufficient to encompass God. If we could, we would be greater than God.

  • I like the Christian zen paradox. The God of the spirit is beyond the god of the mind.

  • Brandon Roberts


  • David Evans

    Off topic, but I think very interesting. This article argues that the cosmic fine tuning problem is much less severe than is commonly thought.

    • Well, existence is a problem, and the existence of minds that can ponder whether fine tuning is a problem, in the sense that these things will inevitably puzzle us. And so I am not sure that saying “we can imagine a universe even better suited to life” contributes much to the subject. We can imagine all sorts of things, and sometimes those things turn out much worse in practice than we expected them to be. 🙂

      • David Evans

        I agree. What we can imagine is a poor guide to what is possible, and this article would not (should not?) claim to resolve all problems. But some people claim that the fine-tuning argument is itself conclusive proof of the existence of a creator, and it’s useful to have this contrary view spelled out.