Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apophatic Theology

I happened upon an article at BioLogos which directed me to an article at www.respectfulconversation.net which caused me to reflect on theology, poetry, and Children of God. By the time my brain had come in for a landing it had gone on quite a merry chase. The theme that runs through these perambulations is one that requires further thought and may result in a subsequent article. For now, let me tease you with two quotes. The keeners in the blogosphere will want to follow up on the links and will find themselves going on their own merry chase into theology, science, and the nature of God. Perhaps one of you will beat me to the punch and write a magnificent blog post on "Hubris and the Nature of God."

The article at BioLogos suggests that we might learn from (without completely embracing) a type of theology known as apophatic ("not" and "capable of being spoken") theology. It states that,
Apophatic theology is not simply an exercise in saying what God is not; it is no primer to theological nihilism. Rather, apophaticism is a spiritual and intellectual commitment to recall that our predications about God, even when true and revelatory, are also inadequate caricatures; whatever true things we may say about God fall magnificently short of exhausting or circumscribing him. Recourse to apophatic theology might counterbalance the hubris by which we presume unduly on our understanding about, e.g., the way divine agency operates in creating and sustaining the universe. Apophatic theology is not to be confused with sloppy relativism; it manifests deference to divine transcendence.1

I do not recall coming across the term "apophatic theology" before; but I know I have met the concept in the writings of others and have sensed the reality of the idea in my own thoughts. (Despite my strong opinions, my depth of hubris is shallower than most people think.) Mary Doriah Russell does a marvelous job of capturing the concept in the dialogue within one of her novels.  In Children of God, Russell's characters consider the reality of Christianity and Judaism and question the motivation it brings to their lives.

"Even if it’s only poetry, it’s poetry to live by, Sofia – poetry to die for,” he told her with quiet conviction. He slouched in his chair for a time, thinking. “Maybe poetry is the only way we can get near the truth of God. . . . And when the metaphors fail, we think it’s God who’s failed us!” he cried, grinning crookedly. “Now there’s an idea that buys some useful theological wiggle room!”2

Theological wiggle room?; or theological reorientation? Could it be that our hubris has caused us to believe that we had it all figured out when the truth of how God operates is many fathoms deeper than we have yet imagined? After-all, God's thoughts are not humans thoughts and are wondrously greater than the greatest thoughts we have ever had.


1 http://www.respectfulconversation.net/ae-conversation/2013/10/12/why-conservative-christian-piety-should-animate-evangelical.html
2 Mary Doriah Russell, Children of God. (New York, Fawcett Books, 1998), 145, 146.

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