Friday, April 4, 2008

Coursework Stuff - 1

This is a response I wrote for the question (in italics) below:

Respond to this idea from Karl Barth: "As Christians we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory."

I believe what Barth is trying to address is the (in)ability of a fallen, finite human being to adequately and fully speak about the infinite God. As Christians, we have been given the privilege of partnering with God in His mission to redeem His creation. That entails modeling the life of Jesus, in deed, as well as in words. Thus, we are obligated as followers of Jesus Christ and part of the historic orthodox community of Christians to speak about God.

We are also human (finite), have a fallen nature, and make use of the very limited tool of language to use when we speak of God. Language itself is neither a-historical nor a-cultural, but rather takes it shape in the context of communal agreements passed down throughout history. There is no place that we as humans can stand that would provide us with an objective view of reality, and the tool of language is no different. Even though it is inspired, the language of the Bible is not special or different, speaking outside of culture and historical situations. The truth revealed in the Scriptures does have universal depth, but it is expressed in particular local contexts. Thus, all of our words and constructions about God come shaped by the culture and historical context that we are situated in. No one person or one community can claim to have the totality of God’s revelation, as it is beyond our grasp. Dangers could arise (and have arisen) when the nature of human beings causes them to speak of God in such a way as to wield power over another. This is usually couched in the belief that our understanding and expression of God equals the totality of God.

God has revealed Himself to humanity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He has also given us the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth. However, even in the revelation of God in Christ and the Scriptures, there still remains a sense of the hidden and the mysterious. Peter Rollins speaks of “revelation as concealment”, that even in revelation, the abundance of God’s presence is impossible to grasp. He uses the example of a piece of art. The piece of art is the revelation of the creator of the art, but the total and complete depth of meaning in that art can not be fully grasped by observers, and what we do see is shaped by the presuppositions we bring to it. How much more is this true when we are speaking and reflecting on the revelation of the infinite God? We do have a sense of the intention of the creator of the revelation, in this case God through the Holy Spirit. However, the giving of the Holy Spirit does not transform our humanity into the divine, thus we still maintain our human condition in regards to the limitation of language, as well as our finitude and finite nature.

This leads us back to Barth’s quote. Understanding our obligation to speak of God based on our calling as missional followers of Jesus Christ, coupled with our inability to fully and adequately speak of Him due to the limitations of language and human nature, should create a sense of awe, wonder, and humility in us. God, in the midst of our situated condition, has chosen to reveal Himself to us within that situated context. We speak of God based on our context, and that is the best we can do. We can give Him glory and thanks for His revelation, and we can develop a humility that understands that our point of view is a view from a point, and that point is our situated context. It is easy to fall to one side or the other concerning the ability to speak of God. As previously mentioned, we can assume that our speech about God equals the totality of God, and it can cause us to exert a will to power over others. The other extreme is that because of our limitations as humans, we should not even attempt to speak of God. Walking in the tension between those two extremes is much more difficult, but I believe that is what we have been called to.

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