God the Wholly Other and the Life of Faith

It is a Thursday morning and I find myself pondering what to share on the blog. There is so much happening around me. The world does seem to be in disarray. I watch as some who claim the name Christian embrace ideologies and personages that seem to me to be far from what I know to be the Christian faith. Being that I'm a pastor (now minister-at-large) and a theologian (historical) by training, I know better (or I think I do). On Sunday I'll be doing pulpit supply and preaching a sermon titled "Living for Jesus," based on a reading from Ephesians 4:25-5:2

As I ponder all of this, I will note that I am reading Christiane Tietz's intriguing biography Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict (review forthcoming). Before that, I read David Congdon's Rudolph Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. Both men were known for their embrace of Dialectical Theology (a better term than Neoorthodoxy) and with it an embrace of the concept of God the Wholly Other. They seemed to understand that God transcends our understanding and our definitions. In other words, God remains a mystery to us. It's not that we don't have any knowledge of God, but God lies beyond our definitions. The message of John 1 is that in Jesus, the Word made Flesh, we have a revelation of God's identity. Look at Jesus and we see something of who God is. From that observation, we can discern a path toward living in the will of God.

Now, I've made a living proclaiming what I believe about God. I've rooted my message in Scripture and thus in the Gospel. As such, I am committed to the belief that God is Love and that we see that love expressed in the life of Jesus. I think I know what that means. I have definitions of love that make sense. Theologians like Tom Oord have helped me in thinking through this, especially his idea that love is uncontrolling and noncoercive. The same is true of Jurgen Moltmann, whose concepts regarding the relationality of the social Trinity make sense to me. I may not know God's essence, but having been embraced by God's love through the divine energies, I have a good sense that love is part of God's essence. 

All of that said, I return to Barth and his emphasis on God's transcendence. As I contemplate this, my reflections take me to the east, to the mystical theology present in Eastern Orthodoxy. The idea linked to Gregory Palamas, which distinguishes between God's essence, which is unknowable, and God's energies which we can encounter is helpful. In fact, this is why I find the doctrine of the Trinity so helpful. It expresses the idea that God is both transcendent, beyond comprehension, and knowable in God's immanent presence in Christ and through the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit. The good news that I take from Eastern Christianity is that while God's essence remains unknowable, through the divine energies we can participate in the life of God. With that I embrace the idea that through the Spirit God is reaching out to us, embracing us, and drawing us into the life of God. 




Popular Posts