Sunday, December 31, 2006

God on the Net: Part II

Much of yesterday afternoon having been devoted to de-mudding Petra (she had a long, muddy fall from a frisky horse at her lesson), I have been slow to find my way back to this topic.

In her discussion of The Great Transformation, Armstrong says some startling things about God (at which some readers and commenters on the Salon site have taken real offense). The thing that is burning most deeply in my heart is her conviction that for most people our understanding of God is so impoverished as to be nearly useless for meaningful dialogue or even as a basis for action. As someone who makes a living on my supposed expertise in this area I find this troubling. I sense there is truth in her assertion: after all, even by my own creeds and confessions, God is infinitely more than anything within my power to conceive.

As many problems as I have with the confession as a whole, there is an honesty and humility to the opening of chapter II of the Westminster catechism that speaks to this ineffability, this unknowability:

1. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty; most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withalhmost just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

They lose me near the end there...I have a distinctly un-Presbyterian universalist streak. Armstrong might subscribe to a couple of these descriptors: infinite, invisible, immense, incomprehensible. As for the rest, I think (and I have not read the book, so this is inferring a lot from an interview), I believe she would remain agnostic.

When I come up smack agains the unknowability of God, I find myself in unsettling territory. I believe the life of Jesus tells me something about God. But does it give me a road map, a portrait? I don't know.

More on the Slate piece later...


Gannet Girl said...

I have pretty Orthodox Christian beliefs (on the liberal end of the spectrum) and I teach in an Orthodox Jewish school. I do believe that Jesus offers us a solid view of God and a pattern for our own relationship with and sense of the Presence of God. That has certainly been my own experience. But I also believe that, once you have been immersed in a faith tradition other than your own, the ineffability of God becomes more apparent ~ also my own experience, and certainly Karen Armstrong's.

steve said...

Your comments made me think about one of Borg's books (I think "Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally" was either the title or the subtitle). Anyway, in the book, he talks about the Bible and how to make meaning out of it. And one of the comparisons he makes is to a Buddhist proverb about a finger pointing to the moon. In other words, the point of the Bible is to point us towards something Beyond (the point of reading it isn't to study the finger, to go back to the metaphor, but to look at what it is pointing to).

I think the Biblical teachings about Jesus raise an interesting question in this regard. Is Jesus the finger as well as the moon (to use the metaphor, perhaps somewhat awkwardly)?

Magdalene6127 said...

Thanks, Gannet Girl, you have put into words something I was unable to get to... I think this is deeply true; no one who has really encountered a deeply faithful religious tradition other than their own can be unmoved.

Steve, I love this image... as a Christian, I waver back and forth (don't tell anyone!) between Jesus is the moon... Jesus is the finger. Beautiful!

Thank you both for your wonderful reflections.