Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Straightforward God?

One fundamentalist argument goes roughly as follows: God, as a being that cares about humanity and is all powerful, would naturally create a document that is simple and straightforward for us to follow when it comes to the scriptures He leaves for us. Therefore, a literal reading of the Bible is the most sensible approach.

I've never found this argument to be very persuasive for a number of reasons. First of all, even if we allow that God is all-powerful in the way that term is normally used, it doesn't follow that God can make Himself known and understood by us in some simple and straightforward way. For any sophisticated theist would at least allow that absolute omnipotence allows God to do anything it is LOGICALLY possible for God to do. God cannot make a square circle, not because God is limited in His power, but because 'square circle' is a contradiction. It is nonsense. It is equivalent to saying "God can create a blah, blah, blah", you aren't really saying anything at all when you say "God can create a square circle", the words form sentences, but the underlying meaning retreats. The same is true when we say "God cannot create a rock so heavy He Himself can't lift it." It isn't that this constitutes a limit on God, but on our language. For "a rock so heavy an [omnipotent] God can't lift it" is a contradiction on parity with 'square circle'.

Now can a limited, mortal being every truly comprehend, or even begin to comprehend, an unlimited, immortal being? Do the words "I understand the Will of God" even make sense? They seem to me to be, on the face of it equivalent to saying "I understand that which is beyond understanding." To say God lets me know His will seems to suffer from the same problem. But let's assume for the moment that I'm wrong somewhere in this conceptual analysis. The Bible itself is full of places where God refuses to simply acquiesce to human will. God does not seem to like to appeal to human hubris or arrogance. In fact, God does things over and over again that frustrate man's attempt to think of himself as something too good, or too smart. It seems to me completely in keeping with the Bible itself to say that God would reveal Himself in a mysterious way JUST BECAUSE it frustrates the often arrogant human will to know and understand. This is why Catholic, Ortodox, and Anglo-Catholic focuses on mystery appeal to me.

Further, the Bible is full of places where the imagery is so alien, so strange, so frustrating that the receiver of the visions is all but laid low. Ezekiel, The Book of Revelation, the Book of Daniel, these books seem to show us a God of which we can know only one thing very clearly: we can have little comprehension of what is going on with him. So I think that the fundamentalist argument is so completely demolished upon reflection, that I can be forgiven for saying that it deserves very little attention.

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