Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Additional Thoughts about God

Thanks for the comments Jeff and S. P. Some time the first year of my doctorate program at the U. of VA, have forgotten whether fall of 74 or spring of 75. we would arrive to class to find some one had written on the blackboard "Josh is coming". This occurred throughout campus. Eventually we learned it was Josh McDowell. When the time arrived he spoke to a very large crowd at the school's largest venue. Remember him pointing out his wife and saying "Eat your heart out guys." That was pretty cool for those days. To affirm the goodness of love and desire. One of the other prominent memories of his talk had to do with the inerrancy of scripture. He set the stage by describing a man he knew and respected who was a wonderful scholar of Greek and a Godly man as well. This student of the word dedicated twenty five years to the study of the alledged descrepiencies of the accounts in the Gospels and after that long dedicated period, he was finally able to harmonize all of them to show there were no contradictions. I thought to myself that if that is what it takes, then surely he's working off the wrong model. Square peg round hole. Inerrancy is the wrong model for understanding scripture and frankly differences are what they are.

I finished "The Case for God" by Armstrong on a plane a few months ago. And in concert with S. P. she describes the career and thoughts of Tillich on God. I once had a friend who was a fan of Tillich and he gave me some feel for his thought. Have thought all these years that I needed read up on him more. S. P., what do you suggest I read? You mentioned Dynamics of Faith, is that a good place to start? Anyway, she lifts this from his Systematic Theology:

"God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him." That sounds like Peter Rollins to me.

and she cites this from D. M. Brown's Ultimate Concern: Tillich in Dialogue

"We can no longer speak of God easily to anybody, because he will immediately question: "Does God exist?" Now the very asking of that question signifies that the symbols of God have become meaningless. For God, in the question, has become one of the innumerable objects in time and space which may or may not exist. And this is not the meaning of God at all."

But Tillich was not a complete innovator here. Armstrong in her book A History of God discusses the Cappadocians (two Gregories and a Cyril) saying:

"As Gregory of Nyssa said, every concept of God is a mere simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol: it could not reveal God himself. Christians must be like Abraham, who, in Gregory's version of his life, laid aside all ideas about God and took hold of a faith which was 'unmixed and pure of any concept.' In his Life of Moses, Gregory insisted that 'the true vision and the knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility."

I will continue to ponder the idea of Tillich's that there can be no such thing as an atheist. One of my Twitter and Facebook friends is a minister in Jonesboro, AR who mentioned that Helen Keller said that she always knew God was there but she didn't know the name for what she felt until later.


S.P. Lunger said...


Dynamics of Faith is the best place to start, IMO, with Tillich because it's both simple (for him) and lays out some things that are really important. Tillich is maddening to read because he never explains himself or offers examples. But he was sooo instrumental in saving me from Adventism and Fundamentalism in general.

After that I'd go to the Courage to Be though you can't go wrong with Systematic Theology. Some of his essays in Theology of Culture are quite enjoyable too. I'll try to find my favorite atheism quote by him and post in the next day or so.

S.P. Lunger said...

Okay, this is kind of long, but worth it:

The fundamental symbol of our ultimate concern is God. It is always present in any act of faith, even if the act of faith includes the denial of God. Where there is ultimate concern, God can be denied only in the name of God. One God can deny the other one. Ultimate concern cannot deny its own character as ultimate. Therefore, it affirms what is meant by the word ‘God.” Atheism, consequently, can only mean the attempt to remove any ultimate concern – to remain unconcerned about the meaning of one’s existence. Indifference toward the ultimate question is the only imaginable form of atheism. Whether it is possible is a problem which must remain unsolved at this point. In any case, he who denies God as a matter of ultimate concern affirms God, because he affirms ultimacy in his concern. God is the fundamental symbol for what concerns us ultimately. Again it would be completely wrong to ask: So God is nothing but a symbol? Because the next question has to be: A symbol for what? And then the answer would be: For God! God is a symbol for God. This means that in the notion of God we must distinguish two elements: the element of ultimacy, which is a matter of immediate experience and not symbolic in itself, and the element of concreteness, which is taken from our ordinary experience and symbolically applied to God. The man whose ultimate concern is a sacred tree has both the ultimacy of concern and the concreteness of the tree which symbolizes his relation to the ultimate. The man who adores Apollo is ultimately concerned, but not in an abstract way. His ultimate concern is symbolized in the divine figure of Apollo. The man who glorifies Jahweh, the God of the Old Testament, has both an ultimate concern and a concrete image of what concerns him ultimately. This is the meaning of the seemingly cryptic statement that God is the symbol of God. in this qualified sense God is the fundamental and universal content of faith. (Dynamics of Faith 52-53)

Steve said...

S. P.,

The passage you cite made clear the shorter snippets/quotes I've heard from him before and never quite understood. Shows to me how important the broader context is and how short quips can only go so far. I've ordered the book. Thanks.

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