Wednesday, November 01, 2006

God, the Via Negativa, and Beyond

Todd Swift, of Eyewear, makes some very interesting observations about being in search of God.

Most dialogue about God at the moment is on the basis that God, if he/she exists, should answer our questions and conform to our methods of exploration. And if he/she doesn’t, then the Deity must either be a human delusion or simply (and for some, sadly) inaccessible to those who can’t ‘make themselves’ have faith. Questions are then aimed at those expressing faith, questions which originate with these assumptions.

But Eyewear takes a different approach to faith:

God is the despite, is the still, is the just about, is the almost - may even be simply the perhaps, or it could be. God is the barest sliver of hope, when all hope is gone. As such, it is a via negativa, and one's faith can only be fully sounded when the instrument one plays is beyond need, is denuded of the self - when one mourns not for one's own self, but for a greater love of another.

This made me think of a passage from one of the letters that theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote from the Tegel prison in Berlin in 1944 before being sent to Buchenwald and then Flossenberg, where he was hanged for his involvement in the bomb plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer tried to find a way of expressing faith in an inhuman time, and the instrument he is playing is certainly “beyond need”:

Religious people speak of God when human perception is (often just from laziness) at an end, or human resources fail: it is in fact always the Deus ex machina they call to their aid, either for the so-called solving of insoluble problems or as support in human failure – always, that is to say, helping out human weakness or on the borders of human existence.

Of necessity, that can only go on until men can, by their own strength, push these borders a little further, so that God becomes superfluous as a Deus ex machina. I have come to be doubtful even about talking of “borders of human existence.”

Is even death today, since men are scarcely afraid of it any more, and sin, which they scarcely understand any more, still a genuine borderline? It always seems to me that in talking thus we are only seeking frantically to make room for God. I should like to speak of God not on the borders of life but at its centre, not in weakness but in strength, not, therefore, in man’s suffering and death, but in his life and prosperity.

On the borders it seems to me better to hold our peace and leave the problem unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the solution of the problem of death. The “beyond” of God is not the beyond of our perceptive facilities. Epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is the “beyond” in the midst of our life.

And it’s worth remembering what “life” he is placing God in the midst of. In that existence, God is also, I think, “the despite, the still, the just about, the almost… the barest sliver of hope, when all hope is gone.”


S. Thomas Summers said...

For me God is Father, Brother, Love, Power, Friend, Savior, Confidant, Joy, Hope, Promise.

Thanks for the interesting post.


Rob Mackenzie said...

Sts - I just had a look at your blog and found your poetry interesting. I'll try to add a link to your site later today. Thanks for commenting.