....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
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.
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
is the most proper name among
all those that can be given to God? And his answer is because it signifies ‘to
: 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.
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.”
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). 
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."
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
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
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
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.
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).
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:
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
(For other references to this same usage, see Isaiah 60:15-16 and Isaiah
Other metaphorical images:
Light (2 Chronicles 13:2 name Uriel means “God is my light”
1 John 1:5)
Whirlwind (Job 38:1-42)
Fire (Exodus 3:1-18, 13:21-22,
Water (New Testament, living water numerous references
Pillar of cloud (Exodus 13:
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
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?
If I go up to the heavens, you
if I make my bed in the depths, [a]
you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the
darkness will hide me
and the light become night around
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
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
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of
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.
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:
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
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the desert
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with
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
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.
transcendence of God is well attested and demonstrates those aspects of the
divine which are beyond human understanding:
God eternal, dwells in high and holy place, above the world:
imagery of being above the world see
Beyond human understanding: cannot be compared to anything
Isaiah 55:8-9, Isaiah 40:13, 18
Doesn’t change: Malachi 3:6,
Powers indicate transcendence: omnipotence “with God all
things are possible.”
See also Luke 1:37
Psalm 115:3, his plans always come to pass see also Psalm
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
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.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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
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).
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
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.
Who has understood the mind [d]
of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to
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.
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.
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.
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.
Etienne Gilson, God and
Philosophy. New Haven and London:
press, Powell lectures on Philosophy Indiana
University, 1941, 63-64.
Kline Ernest, A
Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of
English. Winona Lake,
IN :Eisenbrauns Publishing, 1987.
 Tr. Harry Sperling
et al. Zohar.
York: Soncino. 3:130 1984.
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.
Duane Olson, “Paul
Tillich and the Ontological Argument.” Quodlibet Journal:
Volume 6 Number 3, July - September 2004
Olson has three foot notes: X: “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.” Xi Theology of Culture, 24 Xii Ibid