Friday, January 25, 2013

The "Bible God:" The Depth of Being



  photo 0187_moses_christian_clipart.jpg photo imagesqtbnANd9GcSlVyierOQ2ZIkFDZxPh-PuzBMkiV-WPXYZ-PQ5gjhSelV0Ad-A.jpg


....To hear Atheists tell it the only view of God the Bile gives us is that of a jerk, red-faced hysterical angry old man sitting on a throne with a white beard, commanding the destruction of some society every few moments. As with most things, however, this is just one image the atheists have picked out to vilify the belief system agaisnt which they struggle, the Christian fundamentalist viewpoint. That's a view they can never escape becuase they can't recognize that fighting that view of God is the same as thinking in that way; they are still "funides," they don't like God anymore but they still think in the terms of fundamentalists. I've pointed out many times that religious traditions are constructed by filtering experience of God through cloistral constructs. So that view of God is there in the OT, it's there becuase those are cultural constructs that they had to work with. The ancients, however, were not stupid. They knew there was more to God than that because they experienced the divine. That view point is the surface level, lurking ninetieth the surface is a much deeper concept: the depth of being. That concept is echoed in all my myriad different views of God that atheist ignore and don't see.
....Most people tend to think of God as a big man in the sky. Feminism tries to counter by thinking of God/ess as a big woman in the sky, but it’s the same principle. God is seen as a thing, a human, a big person who is only the most powerful but still part of creation.  Even those of us trained in a more liberal kind of theology still have a hard time shaking the childhood notion. In trying to discuss Tillich’s ideas with both Christians and atheists I find atheists are as committed to “the big guy in the sky” as are fundamentalist Christians. Both can be very strong about insisting that Tillich’s idea is not the Christian concept of God. Of course Tillich was convinced that he had hold of a deep forgotten truth buried beneath the tradition that one can see hinted at by all the major theologians. I will discuss in this chapter some of the theologians whom Tillich uses as such examples, but I will not critique his understanding of them extensively. I assume Tillich was reading into the theologians he liked ideas that may not be there originally. On the other hand some of the ideas are obvious. I will get that toward the end of this chapter. In this chapter I want to explore the notion that while Tillich’s idea is controversial and in some quarters much objected to, in a general sense its concerns if not its assertions are generally favorable to Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, and that one can find in all of these traditions major thinkers who are in a general sense in agreement with either Tillich’s idea or his concerns. I think at least we can say these views are not anti-Christian, not heretical.


Two Major Passages

            We start with the Bible since that for so many forms the basis of Christian theological tradition. There are no passages that blatantly say God is being itself. Of course we are not going to find one that says “verily Verily, I say unto you, Tillich is right.” The main aspect of Biblical theology in which we can expect to find support is not the overt quotation of passages but the imagery and other theological devices used to communicate truth about the nature of God and God’s relation to reality. Also the relation of the concept of being to the concept of God as we see it used in the Bible is a major aspect of this evidence. Moreover, the endorsement of the idea outright by other theologians both living and ancient is a major part of the proof. Nevertheless, there is one passage that may be taken as embodying a concept the consequence of which would entail that God is being itself, or the ground of being. Thais passage is actually a translation; it’s the Septuagint (LXX) version, the Greek translation of the OT produced in the Intertestamental period. This passage is found in Exodus 3: 14 where God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush and tells him to go demand of Pharos “let my people God.” Moses says “whom shall I say is calling?”  God tells him, as translated from Hebrew to English from the Masoretic text, “I am that I am.” In the LXX however, he says ego eimi ‘O on, which literally means “I am he who is.” The meaning implied is that of eternal necessary being. Why say “I am he who is” when anyone who exists can say that? He’s not talking bout the mere fact of existence but the implication of being the basis of all existence. “He who is” implies an eternal and necessary nature.
            The famous passage of God appearing out of the burning bush and giving Moses his name as “I am” is an important passage, not only is it important for movie goers and Charlton Hesston fans but also in the history of philosophy. It was upon the basis of this passage that Etinene Gilson says Thomas Aquinas based the notion he had of God as the primary act of existence, and the basis of the argument about existential energy.

Quote the passage in Gilson

Why, St. Tomas asks, do we say that Qui est  is the most proper name among all those that can be given to God? And his answer is because it signifies ‘to be.’ : ipsum esse. And what is it to be? In answering this most difficult of all metaphysical questions, we must carefully distinguish between the meaning of two words which are both different and yet immediately realted, ens, or being and esse or ‘to be.’ To the question “what is being” the correct answer is, “being is that which is, or exits” If for instance we ask the same question with regard for God the correct answer would be “the being of God is an infinite and boundless ocean of substance.” But esse or to be is something else and much harder to grasp because it lies more deeply hidden in the metaphysical structure of reality. The word being as a noun designates some substance;the word “to be”—or esse—is a verb, because it designates an act. To understand this is also to reach beyond the level of essence, the deeper level of existence…we first conceive certain beings, then we define their essences, and last we confirm their existences by means of a judgment. But the metaphysical order of reality is just the reverse of the order of human knowledge. What first comes into it is a certain act of existing, which. Because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. In this deeper sense “to be” is the deeper and fundamental act by virtue of which a certain being actually is, or exists…to be is the very act whereby an essence is.[1]


Of course for those not enamored of Thomistic philosophy this may seem a bit questionable but the point in bringing it up is to show the profound power and importance of the passage, which served as a spring board for a major movement in the history of philosophy and of faith. The meaning is obviously bound up in questions of the metaphysical nature of being and what it means to be. The Scholastics derived from this idea of essence and existence the notion that God alone is unique because the divine essence (what God is) is the same as the divine existence (the fact that God is), or to put it another way God’s essence is the same as his existence. For everything else existence is a function of essence. The up shot of all of this is that the thing God is is an eternally existing act.  The job description of God so to speak is to always be because what God is eternal necessary being. We can see that in the passage just by translating in the stadanrd way form Hebrew as “I am that I am.”
            Aquinas’ view of God is counter to that of Tillich even though they are both termed “existential.” Wolfhart Pannenberg used Aquinas to actually counter Tilich (one can see the contradiction between Aquinas’ use of the term “existence of God” and Tillich’s abhorrence f the term). [2] Even so I would argue that weather one works from the Hebrew derived translation “I am that I am” or the Greek “I am being” it’s hinting at the same thing. He doesn’t say “I am the most powerful being” or even “I am the creator” but either way it definitely rests the relationship between God and the world upon the notion of God as the basis of reality. “I am that I am” implies a self sustaining uncaused or eternal state, aka aseity, and that implies that the one who has aseity would have to be the foundation of all reality and the creator of all things. The interview between God and Moses is so crucial to the Christian concept of God, it is the unveiling of God’s identity to the great Patriarch of Israel, their leader out of slavery and to the promised land. This is a very key verse. This is where we are given the basic revelation of who God is. What does it tell us but that God is fundamentally connected to being at the most foundational level? The Hebrew word most used for God derives from this passage and it basically means “being.” “The name of god, which in Hebrew is spelled YHWH, is difficult to explain. Scholars generally believe that it derives from the Semitic word, "to be," and so means something like, "he causes to be."[3]
            The other archetypical passage that literally connects God to being itself proceeds from the other end of the equation, from the standpoint of the being and their connection to God. That passage is found in Acts 17: 28 “In him we live and move and have our being. Paul is telling the Greek philosophers and worshippers on Mars Hill that their alter to “the unknown God” hints at the reality of the true God. These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us." This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his plan to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love. The significance is that the Hebrew passage is God’s revelation to his chosen people, to the Israelites, the Greek passage of the NT is the revelation of the Christian God reaching out to other people. In both cases God is revealing himself or being revealed. In both cases God’s basic identity is related to God’s relation to being.  The passage in v28 says “In him we live and move and have our being.” Literally it says “in him we live and move and are.” The tense is present. The translation in English is usually slanted to the poetic. The notion of our being is not only derived from God but is played out “in” God suggests the concept of Being and the beings. The beings are produced and sustained as part of being. Since God is the producer and sustainer of our being, of all being it stands to reason that God is the foundation of all that is, and that God is therefore, fundamentally related to Being itself. This is also a picture of the depth of being. God’s estrangement from other cultures and revelation to those cultures demonstrates a fundamental relation to being, he is not an idol made with hands, (as Paul says in the passage) he is not served by men with their hands, yet he is “not far from any one of us.” In fact Paul quotes the Greek poet “we are all his offspring.” One is reminded of the notion “being is present and manifest in the beings.”

God and Biblical Metaphor

            Another major aspect of our conventional conceptions of God as “big man in the sky” is Biblical imagery. We see the king on the throne. We hear Jesus pray “our father” we see God parting the red sea. We are constantly confronted with the notion that God is the big man in the sky, the king, the father. This imagery sticks in our heads and overshadows other imagery because our culture is conditioned by the patriarch. We forget there is other imagery for God in the Bible. There is actually quite a bit of “other” imagery where God is seen as something other than a big man. Starting with the most obvious alternative, there is quite a bit of female imagery associated with God. Now that is not the same being itself. Of course, because the big woman in the sky is no better than the big man in terms of its rootedness in thinghood.. Nevertheless, in terms of an alternative to what many consider to be the rock solid belief that the Christian God has to be the big man in the sky, we should point out the female imagery.

There are also many ensconces in scripture where God is imaged in female or motherly terms:
Deu 32:11 "As an eagle stirs up her nest, and hovers over her young, and spreads her wings, takes them up, and bears them on her wings.

Deu 32 :18 "Of the Rock that bore you, you were unmindful, and have forgotten God that formed you." (that one may be hard to get, baring children--female image).

Job 38:8 "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb."

Job 38:29 "From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven."

Isa 45 9-10 Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter. Does the clay say to the one who fashions it: What are you making, or Your work has no handles? Woe to anyone who says to a father: What are you begetting? or to a woman: With what are you in labour?

Isa 49:15 "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. (comparing God's attitude toward Israel with a woman's attitude toward her children).

Isa 66:13 As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Hosea 13:8 "I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart";

Mat 23:37 and Luk 13:34 Jerusalem, "Jerusalem, the city that kills its prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing."
God transcends either gender. Gender is a matter of culture, sex is a matter of biology, and God is a product of neither. We can, however, learn a lot from the fact that God is compared with both mother and father. This sets the basis in equality; neither gender is privileged by imaging God.
or the Hebrew sadeh, meaning BREAST, the usual translation being PROVIDER, SUSTAINER (Klein, Ernest. 1990. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language. Jerusalem: University of Haifa. 641).
SHADDAI would then be translated respectively as MOUNTAIN or BREAST[4]
           
EL SHADDAI is usually translated as GOD ALMIGHTY - EL, meaning GOD and SHADDAI being a combination word - SHE, meaning WHO and DAI meaning ENOUGH. EL SHADDAI GOD WHO IS ENOUGH, GOD WHO IS SELF-SUFFICIENT (Hagigah 12a). SHADDAI may also be from the Akkadian sadu, meaning MOUNTAIN, or the Hebrew sadeh, meaning BREAST. EL SHADDAI would then be translated respectively as GOD OF THE MOUNTAIN or GOD OF THE BREAST. Variant spelling - EL SHADAI “Adonai appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai” (Exodus 6:3).[5]

(Zohar. 1984. Tr. Harry Sperling et al. New York: Soncino. 3:130).



Examples of this word being used are Genesis 17:1, Exodus 6:3. Jacob giving last instructions to his sons said:
Gen 49:24-25.(24) "But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God (El) of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)25 Even by the God (El) of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty (Shaddai), who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb..."

(For other references to this same usage, see Isaiah 60:15-16 and Isaiah 66:10-13.)


Other metaphorical images:

Light (2 Chronicles 13:2 name Uriel means “God is my light” 1 John 1:5)
Darkness
Storms
Whirlwind (Job 38:1-42)
Fire (Exodus 3:1-18, 13:21-22, Acts 2)
Water (New Testament, living water numerous references
Dove
Pillar of cloud (Exodus 13: 21-22)


            The point being that the image of God as a big man in the sky is a metaphor. It’s no more literal than these other images. There are also images of inanimate and natural things pictured as images of God.  In Job God speaks out of whirl wind, In Exodus God is constantly linked to darkness and to storms. In 1 John “He is light and in him there is no darkness.” To Moses he spoke from a burning bush, God’s spirit is imaged as a dove, water, fire. These are all obviously metaphors. Since God told the children of Israel not to make graven images of him, doesn’t this mean that God can’t be pinned down to any one image? These are all metaphors. Paul told the Greeks that as creator God does not dwell in temples made with hands. That contradicts the tabernacle Holy of Holies and the Temple in Jerusalem. But it’s not really a contradiction because those were not the limit on God’s presence. Even though God’s presence was there it was not only and entirely there, but everywhere. “Neither is he worshipped with men’ hands as though he needed anything seeing he giveth to all life and breath and all things.”(Acts 17: 25) that is the beginning of the discourse in which Paul leads, in the very next point to “in him we live and move and have our being.” God can’t be imaged and God is beyond our understanding, our own being is in god and derived from God. The connection of being ”in God” would certainly suggest that God is being and we are the beings. In any case it’s clear the images we see of God as Father and King and big guy in the sky are metaphors.
            Being ancients, the authors of the Bible wrote in popular language. They did not record deep philosophical concepts in deep philosophical language but simplified to the common reader of their own time and culture. Yet all Bible scholars know that this is no reason to exclude philosophical intent, topics, and concepts form the Bible. Those things are there clearly. We don’t know to what extent the Biblical authors understood them, and its’ not important. Isaiah was not sitting around thinking ‘cogito ergo sum.’ This does not mean, however, that when he says “come let us reason together” that any depth of reasoning which puts the meat on the table so to speak is included. In this way, philosophical concepts clothed in popular languages of the ancients, we find certain standard concepts of God relate to the notions of being itself brought out by Tillich. One major example is that of the Omnipresence of God, and it’s subdivisions, God’s immanence and transcendence. Psalm 139:6-16 God’s omnipresence is like that of ground of being


7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?
 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
       if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.
 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
       if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 10 even there your hand will guide me,
       your right hand will hold me fast.
 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
       and the light become night around me,"
 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
       the night will shine like the day,
       for darkness is as light to you.
 13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother's womb.
 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.
 15 My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

In this passage we see both God’s immanence and tremendous wrapped up in omnipresence. God is everywhere, there is nowhere one can go where God is not. At the same time God is intimately related to the individual, making the inmost being (the spirit, the soul?) of the infant in the mother’s womb. That is a compound image of intimacy. God is not only immediately present to the mother, but inside the infant in her womb. Yet God is also beyond the world, in the darkness in the light in sheol (v 8 depth is sheol = the grave) in the depth of the earth. God is even present beyond world before anything was created. Certainly this is more than just a big man on throne.
            The Bible speaks of God in two ways that seem to be contradictions. It speaks of God as immanent, related to the world at a very intimate level (making the inner being of infants in their mother’s wombs) yet also transcendent—lofty and beyond our understanding. God is High dwelling in high holy places where humans cannot go. This is not a contradiction, it’s the upshot of God’s omnipresence, God is in the world and beyond it. This may seem contradiction to some but it makes perfect since for the ground of being. If Being is present and manifest in the beings then certainly Being is present in the world at an intimate level. If Being is the ground of all being than Being must be beyond the world and transcendent of our understanding. Both qualities are pictured in scripture. God’s Immanence is pictured in many passages, anywhere really where God does thins in the world, to numerous to list. I will give two examples, we already have a couple from pslam 139 (above). Psalm 65:9-13 see God working intimately in nature
Job 33:4:  God working intimately in creation of each individual see also Isaiah 63:11: The passage in Psalm 65 says:

9 You care for the land and water it;
       you enrich it abundantly.
       The streams of God are filled with water
       to provide the people with grain,
       for so you have ordained it. [c]
 10 You drench its furrows
       and level its ridges;
       you soften it with showers
       and bless its crops.
 11 You crown the year with your bounty,
       and your carts overflow with abundance.
 12 The grasslands of the desert overflow;
       the hills are clothed with gladness.
 13 The meadows are covered with flocks
       and the valleys are mantled with grain;
       they shout for joy and sing.

Job 33:4 tells us “ The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” While Issiah 63:11 says

“Then his people recalled [a] the days of old,
       the days of Moses and his people—
       where is he who brought them through the sea,
       with the shepherd of his flock?
       Where is he who set
       his Holy Spirit among them,”

The immanence of God is well attested. While some think God’s transcendence is a contradiction, there are bridges between the two The major bridge is the omnipresence of God. Since God is everywhere including beyond the world beyond our understanding, immanence and transcendence are just two aspects. There are numerous links to the immanence of God as omnipresence: Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. Genesis 28:10-22 the story of Jacob’s ladder where Jacob’s dream of a ladder connecting earth and heaven would seem to be a crude symbol of a spiritual connection between immanent and transcendent.

            The transcendence of God is well attested and demonstrates those aspects of the divine which are beyond human understanding:


Transcendence

God eternal, dwells in high and holy place, above the world: imagery of being above the world see
Ps 47:8
Isaiah 57:15,

Beyond human understanding: cannot be compared to anything (unconditioned)
Isaiah 55:8-9, Isaiah 40:13, 18

Doesn’t change: Malachi 3:6,

Powers indicate transcendence: omnipotence “with God all things are possible.”
.Matthew 19:26 See also Luke 1:37
Psalm 115:3, his plans always come to pass see also Psalm 33:11

God Is good and is the standard of justice:
Job 34:10 God will never do evil does justice see also Deuteronomy 32:4, Ps 11:7 just and does not show favoritism: Acts 10:34, judges each one according to what he has done: Romans 2:6 judges and forgives: 1 John 1:9

            Let’s take a deeper look at some of these passages. Isaiah 57:15

For this is what the high and lofty One says—
       he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
       "I live in a high and holy place,
       but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
       to revive the spirit of the lowly
       and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Iaaha 55: 8-9
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
       neither are your ways my ways,"
       declares the LORD.
 9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
       so are my ways higher than your ways
       and my thoughts than your thoughts.

            The concept of omnipresence, and it’s subdivisions into immanence and transcendence, taken together not as contradictions but as part of a aspects of a whole mark out the philosophical territory of  the depth of being and God as the unconditioned which Tillich spoke of despite the primitive language:



The philosophical idea of omnipresence is that of exemption from the limitations of space, subjectively as well as objectively; subjectively, in so far as space, which is a necessary form of all created consciousness in the sphere of sense-perception, is not thus constitutionally inherent in the mind of God; objectively, in so far as the actuality of space-relations in the created world imposes no limit upon the presence and operation of God. This metaphysical conception of transcendence above all space is, of course, foreign to the Bible, which in regard to this, as in regard to the other transcendent attributes, clothes the truth of revelation in popular language, and speaks of exemption from the limitations of space in terms and figures derived from space itself. Thus, the very term "omnipresence" in its two component parts "everywhere" and "present" contains a double inadequacy of expression, both the notion of "everywhere" and that of "presence" being spacial concepts. Another point, in regard to which the popular nature of the Scriptural teaching on this subject must be kept in mind, concerns the mode of the divine omnipresence. In treating the concept philosophically, it is of importance to distinguish between its application to the essence, to the activity, and to the knowledge of God. The Bible does not draw these distinctions in the abstract. Although sometimes it speaks of God's omnipresence with reference to the pervasive immanence of His being, it frequently contents itself with affirming the universal extent of God's power and knowledge (Deuteronomy 4:39; 10:14; Psalms 139:6-16; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Amos 9:2).[6]


The picture that is painted for us of God resulting for these characteristics is much like what Tillich describes in his article on depth of being in Shaking of the Foundations[7] God’s justice, goodness, his love, his power to do good is part of that as it relates to depth of history. The physical aspect of God’s proximity to the world is like of depth of being and the power of being. God is in the world and beyond it, controlling it and relating ot it at the most intimate level; he’s making children grow in the womb and crops grow in the field; he’s making the rain drops come and plants grow and he’s in there involved in every aspect, he’s also so high and lofty he’s far beyond our understanding. This is much like being itself, he’s the source from which all things come, like being itself. He’s everywhere, the whole is surrounded by God and penetrated by God it is in God and God is in it, like being itself. Being is present and manifest in the beings and God is in the womb making kids grow. Being is beyond our understanding, eternal and beyond us, and God is in some high and heavenly place we can’t know, but God knows us before we exist. We see not only the ground of being in this portrait but the unconditioned, the God beyond God, the truth because our understanding. We can experience God’s love, presence and power just like the mystics.
            Isaiah 40, 13-14 declares:

13 Who has understood the mind [d] of the LORD,
       or instructed him as his counselor?
 14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
       and who taught him the right way?
       Who was it that taught him knowledge
       or showed him the path of understanding?
V 18 “To whom, then, will you compare God?
       What image will you compare him to?”


No image is suitable to fully grasp the nature of God, he can’t be compared anything or anyone.  That’s really the idea behind the phrase “being itself,” a phrase which connotes the uniqueness of a concept that transcends “thinghood” and indicates something that is the only one of its kind. “A being” is one of many. If something is one of many its probably a “thing” in creation because it must compete with other things for existence. A being could fail to exist it could be another being as opposed to the one it is. But something that is the thing itself is the only one, unique, not contingent can’t fail to exist because it can’t be that it could have been otherwise. These ideas being communicated by the phrase: the un-conditioned. The unconditioned aspect of the divine is what is being communicated. Taken together these scriptures spell out the notion of God as the unconditioned, the depth of being, the basis of reality and these are the qualities that mark the ground of being as unique in a way that nothing else can match. Such a God is not a possibility among another, not just another personality or “most powerful being.” That’s moving in the right direction for ancient world concepts. This is not a just a big man on a throne but the basis of all reality.
            The unconditioned is beyond our understanding. The unconditioned means that no thought or reality we know of in concrete reality can be applied literally to God. That doesn’t mean God is an abstraction, the ground of being is concrete but nothing we know of, no “thing” in creation, can be applied literally to God.  God is not “a being,” God is not “a thing in creation,” God is not literally anything we know. But just as the ancients represented God through their primitive constructs as king, father, mother, animal fire, wind, water, light, dark so we can speak metaphorically of God. We need to recognize and be aware that the images used of God in the Bible are clearly just metaphors. The children of Israel were forbidden to make an graven image of God, they refused to try and represent God literally, they knew there making metaphors. The prophet says “what image can depict God?” We can construct much more sophisticated metaphors such as ground of being, unfired field, laws of physics, dialectic, but we still know what God is and these are still just metaphors. The big loving father is a metaphor. That doesn’t mean that God does not love, it means that God is beyond our understanding. We know the love is real by experiencing it, we can’t compare God literally to a father, because in every comparison there is “like” and “not like.” If God is “like a father” then God is also “not like a father.” One must keep in mind the metaphorical nature of the father image. We can see from the biblical imagery that depiction of God as a king, father, and big man in the sky are metaphorical.
            Atheists tend to think that Christianity is just the Bible. But the Christian tradition is living and active. It is not confined to just following Bible verses by wrote like robots following programming, but formulating ideas and explaining and re-explaining as each new generation finds is own seminal problems that confront human experience in their own era. Showing how contemporary problems and their solutions relate to the ancient tradition is the task of the theologian. Theologians relate the timeless metaphors of scripture and ancient tradition to the constructs of their own age and in so doing their theology becomes part of the tradition. The Christian tradition is living and active, it is still growing and God as being itself has became as much a part of Christian theology as some  of the ancient concepts. Theologians throughout history have discussed being itself and they forms a continuity between the ancient Biblical tradition and the growing theological tradition stretching into the contemporary scene.
            Theology might get pretty arid talking around that of which we cannot speak and spending our time remarking about how we can’t speak of it. Certainly it would be much more comforting to tell the bereaved and oppressed of God’s fatherly love than of “the unconditioned nature of the object of ultimate concern.” Not to worry, we can transform metaphors into symbols and take comfort in Tillich’s theory of symbols. For Tillich symbols participate in the reality which they symbolize. For example Moby Dick is a symbol of untamed nature but he’s also a white whale, which is part of untamed nature, except for the bit about him being a fictional character. It might seem that all of this is beyond “the average Christian” but it is not unnoted in Christian history.“There is a long tradition of analogy and negative theology in Judeo-Christian reflection that agrees with the denial of literal knowledge of God.  However, in much of this theology, God is still talked about as if God were an existing being…”


…  For Tillich, the identification of God as being-itself, or the unconditioned, is essential for a reflective grasp of God in both philosophy and theology, but it does not fully describe the immediate religious experience of God.  Analysis of religious experience shows that the idea of God as unconditioned is most generally fused with some concrete representation of God, which functions as a symbol.[x]  As Tillich says in a rather obscure quote, “God is unconditioned, that makes him God; but the ‘unconditional’ is not God.”[xi]  In other words, in the inner meaning of God is the idea of the unconditioned, but contained within the totality of the notion of God is more than that bare idea.  He continues, “the word ‘God’ is filled with the concrete symbols in which mankind (sic) has expressed its ultimate concern – its being grasped by something unconditional.”[xii]  To experience God, for example, as father, king, or lord, is to experience the fusion of a finite reality with the unconditioned experienced in and through this reality.  In this fusion, some concrete object functions as a symbol of God.  I will not attempt to justify Tillich’s theory of symbols here, but only point out that the religious idea of God, or God as experienced in some concrete religion, is more complex than this abstract analysis of God as unconditioned shows.[8] 




[1] Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy. New Haven and London: Yale University press, Powell lectures on Philosophy Indiana University, 1941, 63-64.
[2] Find--Gilson
[3] Jewish Virtual Library, “Egypt and the Wanderings:Moses and the Cult of Yahweh ” visited 4/23/10, URL: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/hebegypt.html  “the Hebrews a Learning Module Washington  State Universality, copyright Richard Hooker 2010.
[4] Kline Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. Winona Lake, IN :Eisenbrauns Publishing, 1987.
[5] Tr. Harry Sperling et al.    Zohar. New York: Soncino. 3:130 1984.
[6] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia online. “omnipresence” Edited James Orr, John Nuelsen, Edgar Mullins, Morris Evans, and Melvin Grove Kyle and was published complete in 1939. W.B. Eerdman’s Publishing co. Webstie copywrited 2008.
[7] Op cit
[8] Duane Olson, “Paul Tillich and the Ontological Argument.”
I say in religious experience the unconditioned is “most generally” fused with a concrete representation, because Tillich does allow for mystical experiences that are devoid of concrete symbols.Theology of Culture, 24 Xii Ibid




7 comments:

Dave said...

"Since God is the producer and sustainer of our being..."

Hmm, could this be from the influence of my phrasing about God being the "source, substance, and sustainer of existence"?

Metacrock said...

sure I would think those are saying the same thing.

Miles said...

Spinoza had not issue with it.

Dave said...

I was suggesting your wording was influenced by my wording :p

Metacrock said...

you mean me? I think your working is very creedal or orthodox sounding. it seems to be coming out of that milieu.

Dave said...

I don't think those camps would really care for my arrangements. Meanwhile, in the great(ly embarrassing) state of Texas... ;o)


Texas Public Schools Teaching Creationism, 'End Times'

Metacrock said...

yes probably not. thinks are looking up in the one star shithole. 67% of Texas voters now say they want Rick Perry out! 47% of republicans agree! so even they are sick of him.

number one reason given: he made us look like fools in his presidential "campaign." This is actually time when the majority of people see what's going on! think about it!