I liked this piece by Mark Galli, at Christianity Today, and clip a bit from it. We’ve got problems today about how we talk about God … some are altogether too irreverent, others are so reverent they aren’t even biblical, and yet others are so imaginative they are no longer biblical. Galli ventured recently into the re-use of the riskiness of the Bible’s metaphors and comes back with this piece that shows the bounds and freedom of our God-Talk. (Mark, can you pass me a glass of water? [That’s inside.])
God is truly incomparable. There are no statues we can shape or word pictures we can craft that can possibly do justice to his being.
This is the genius of apophatic theology, about which our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition have taught us so much. Apophatic theology talks about God in terms of what he is not. God is uncreated, not bound by time and space, and in one sense is unknowable–that is, because he is infinite and we are finite, we can never know God as he is. From the perspective of apophatic theology, we can even say that God does not “exist.” We use that word to talk about people, plants, animals, and rocks. But how and why these created things “exist” cannot be compared to the way a transcendent, immortal deity “exists.”
Thus apophatic theologians, if they do traffic in metaphors, will talk about God as “uncreated light.” Light is hard enough to get a handle on, but add uncreated to it, and the mind goes blank. Which is the point–God is unknowable by our terms!
From this perspective, to compare God to a drama queen is indeed a problem! But then from this perspective, it would also be a problem to compare almighty God to an unjust judge (Luke 18), or an anxious housewife (Luke 15), or a careless farmer (Mark 4)–you know, like Jesus did. And it was a scandal for both Jews and Greeks–who reveled mostly in a transcendent God–to be told that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The Incarnation and Jesus’ talk about God suggest that there is more than one way to blaspheme–that is, to be irreverent and impious. That would be to so exalt the transcendence of God that there is no room left in the imagination for the scandalous Emmanuel, God with us….
Today there are many who strive to protect the reputation of God. They are, so to speak, on “blasphemy alert.” At their best, they remind us whenever we suggest that God is anything but holy, immortal, and almighty. In an age such as ours–which can be so casual about things divine–I’m glad there are such people around.
But the interesting thing is that God does not seem all that concerned about his reputation. He is the one who inspired people to think of him as an inert rock (Deut. 32) or a common shepherd (Ps. 23), and who came to us not in a flashy show of glory and power but as a baby in a trough wrapped in rags. He apparently isn’t offended when he is mistaken for a simple gardener (John 20).
… easier when we realize that all our talk about God is partial, that there is no word picture that can do full justice to his being, that there is always something greater than the arresting image we might fashion–and that there is a divine source that can keep us both humble and balanced in our God-talk.