Monday, January 29, 2007

How (Not) to Speak of God: Chapter 1 – God rid me of God

**Note (1/31): see Andy's thoughts about this post at his blog called Brushed. I hope you check it out - it's well worth reading.**


In chapter 1 of How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins indirectly asks the question, “Can we know God?” He addresses both those who look to the authority of the Bible and quickly reply “yes” and those who have abandoned any hope of knowing God, turning instead to a purely ethics-based religion. Rollins refuses to follow either of these two paths. He believes in revelation but rejects the idea that we can reduce God to a simple, linear, and coherent definition - Rollins calls this “conceptual idolatry.” Instead of creating an image or physical idol to represent God, too many of us have “reduce[d] God to an intellectual object.” Rollins looks to the Bible and reminds us that it does not provide us with one clear image of God, but rather a multitude of descriptions and revelations. Regarding the vast God of the Bible, Rollins writes:

“We are presented with a warrior God and a peacemaker, a God of territorial allegiance and a God who transcends all territorial divides, an unchanging God and a God who can be redirected, a God of peace and a God of war, a God who is always watching the world and a God who fails to notice the oppression against Israel in Egypt.”

Rather than trying to reduce these “inconsistencies” the authors of the Bible seem to resist any attempt to create one clear and defined picture of God. Rollins provides many other examples in scripture that seem to “[describe] a God who is not explicable.” Job is perhaps the best example. His friends tried to provide him with an easy understanding of God; however, in the end the situation transcended any simple explanation.

So what do we make of this? Rollins encourages us to stop thinking of revelation and concealment as opposite ends of a spectrum. Instead, we must realize that “revelation…has concealment built into its very heart.” I want to quote in full the beautiful climax of Rollins’ first chapter:

“Hence revelation ought not to be thought of either as that which makes God known or as that which leaves God unknown, but rather as the overpowering light that renders God known as unknown. This is not dissimilar to a baby being held by her mother – the baby does not understand the mother but rather experiences being known by the mother. In contrast, revelation is often treated as if it can be deciphered into a dogmatic system rather than embraced as the site where the impenetrable secret of God transforms us. In the former, revelation is rendered into an eloquent doctrine, while in the latter, revelation is that which transforms. We are like an infant in the arms of God, unable to grasp but being transformed by the grasp. Revelation can thus be described as bringing to light the secret of God in such a way that it remains secret. God is thus the secret who remains concealed in the sharing. We can thus not speak of a hidden side of God and a manifest side, for we must acknowledge that the manifest side of God is also hidden.

“What is important about revelation is not that we seek to interpret it in the same way but rather that we all love it and are transformed by it. To fail to recognize this would be similar to an art critic saying that what is important when considering a piece of art is that we interpret it correctly rather than loving it and being challenged by it.”

In conclusion, Rollins implores us “to leave aside the need for clarity” and instead “accept the fact that what is important is that we are embraced by the beloved.” And lastly, Rollins says we do not need to give up our definitions of God but instead must realize they all fall short. Rollins looks to the prayer of Meister Eckhart as helpful in this task – Eckhart prayed ‘God rid me of God’ – “a prayer that acknowledges how the God we are in relationship with is bigger, better and different than our understanding of that God.”

What do you think of all this? I realize it may take a couple read-throughs to fully grasp (at least it did for me) but I think there is a lot of value here. Does any of this resonate with you? I think there are a lot of implications of this thinking - we'll get into that more as we go on.

Others in this series:
- Introduction
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5


Brooke said...

This is very good. I love this quote: "Revelation can thus be described as bringing to light the secret of God in such a way that it remains secret. God is thus the secret who remains concealed in the sharing. We can thus not speak of a hidden side of God and a manifest side, for we must acknowledge that the manifest side of God is also hidden."

I have come to the point where I realize that it just doesn't work (for me, anyway) to work to define God - whether through the Bible or theology or through any of the traditional Christian practices - God won't be defined. At least, not in the way we would like. And actually, the very fact that He is a God of paradoxes and "inconsistencies" brings great relief to me.

Thanks for sharing this.

jeff said...

Adam, I’m impressed. This is very good…it resonates very much with my experience. Every glimpse I get of Him is light that reveals more of what I don’t know of Him, yet draws me deeper to want to know Him more. I am seeing more and more that I am embraced by the One who is Pure Love. Love is the unfathomable, indefinable mystery. And as it turns out, a Person to be believed in. Not because He can be fully understood or defined, but because He surely IS…the unfathomable Love that somehow we know should be there!

Adam said...

Brooke and Jeff, I'm so glad you liked this. I think it is amazing - some of the most exciting, profound, and relevant words I have read in a long time.

Andy said...

Great stuff. I love the quote by Rollins, and every time I read a sentence like that from Eckert I think I need to get a book. Is there one? I write a bit more on my blog with a link here.

Amy said...

I think this is really good. I am comforted by the fact that I don't have to have all the answers about God, etc.--in fact, that I WILL NOT have all the answers. I am also, at the same time, encouraged to seek out more of God.

This reminds me a little of the final chapters in The Last Battle, which is probably one of my favorite books ever. They've all finally arrived in Aslan's land and C.S. Lewis talks about going "further up and further in"--the farther up and in they go, the more they discover, and the more beautiful it is. And they never stop going farther up and in. It's an allegory about Heaven, but I think it absolutely applies to God, too, because, after all, He is the essence of Heaven.

Andy said...

BTW, my blog (and the entry you referenced) have moved. It's now at and the specific post is at /65/real-god-not-projection/ (add that to the end of my blog URL).