Friday, January 13, 2017

A Bigger God

I came to the Faith, as I understand it, for philosophical reasons - at least in part. I can't comment much upon my psychological reasons, because they are still as uncertain to me as they are as certain to others (Dunning-Kruger effect much?).

By 'philosophical reasons' I am referring to the kinds of things Plato was up in his discernment of the divine, and what Kant was up to, and what Tolstoy was up to. The basic question I asked myself was, if there were a God, He would have to be like this...

And my young mind came up with a number of things I still believe, but which I think I can reduce to two things in essence:

1) God is not partial
2) He is not limited to what is possible to our imagination

These two points were important to me. How important they are in your every day spiritual life is really what I want to talk about in this post, but there are some preambulatory things I need to say first.

The first is a primarily moral point, the second metaphysical, but they have a lot in common. You can say that (1) is and is not an instance of (2). It is not in that Aristotle thought (2) meant that God did not care about us. So, in other words, it is possible to believe (2) without believing (1). It is derivative of (2) in that (2) means that we need to expand our thinking about God in every way, and one way we really need to do this is in ethics. Kant thought that (2) implied (1), in other words, and so too did Tolstoy. Plato's position is a little more complex, but I think he would ultimately agree that (2) implies (1), but not for the reasons Christians suppose it does.

So, if anyone ever cared to write a history of my religious thought, he would have to refer to the importance of (1) and (2) to me from about 15 years of age on. I would be baptized in the Catholic Church by 17 because I say a direct and inescapable link between (1) and (2) and the Catholic Church. What I supposed that to be is rather too much for me to describe at this moment.

I want to talk about the role of the imminent and the transcendent in our imagination about God. We do not acknowledge God's immanence because of the Incarnation; we acknowledge it because of Genesis 1. God created the world out of nothing and therefore from out of Himself in some sense. We get this more plainly in the phrase "in His image and likeness" when He created man. Of course, the Incarnation is the ultimate instance of His imminence. The Catholic Church teaches all of this, therefore, it teaches (1), at least insofar as (1) implies that God is in relationship with all of creation and not only a privileged part of it, and, moreover, that man's essential character lies in His relationship to God, that you cannot have a man who is not in relationship with God, one whom, we add, God loves: to be a man, then, is to be loved by God (even if the opposite is not true).

Image result for st. augustine of hippo on the beachOf course, it is always important to keep in mind the tension between (1) and (2). This is the tension between our understanding of God's immanence and His transcendence. No person, I believe can have a true understanding of God (as true as is possible for us: true, not comprehensive), if we do not hold these two realities in mind always. It is the difference between the God who cannot care (Aristotle's vaporous God) and the God whose care doesn't amount to anything (the Canaanites' dead idol of wood or stone).

So here we are. Here am I. Sometimes I think/feel that God is so far away, because so great, that He doesn't care about me. Sometimes I think He is so close that He is only there to indulge my selfish feelings, that the sole reason for His existence is to make me feel good.

I would assume that I am not alone in this. Every mistake in my spiritual life consists in ending up at one of these two poles, and ignoring the truth of the other side.

It has always been my suspicion, however, that today Christians need to think more about God's transcendence.

For me, it is likely the opposite. Jesus is everything to me, but I am capable of an extraordinary dissonance in that I can hate the Father at times while still loving the Son. What uniquely human madness!

Psychoanalyze that. Better yet, pray for me!

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