Got God?

Lawrence painting
Mark Lawrence, "God Is Our Refuge and Strength," 2009

Getting to know God is a tricky business. Just when you think you’ve got God, you don’t.

Normally, I would find this very frustrating. I want to understand things fully, and if something constantly eludes me, I give up trying to understand it with a great deal of exasperation. Goodbye, physics. Adios, chemistry.

But knowing God, getting God, is different. There is something about God that by God’s very nature is elusive, ungraspable.

And yet, your average believer feels that she or he does know God a bit, at least certain aspects of God. I hear people say things that, “That’s not God,” or “God is like this,” or “God isn’t like that,” or “That’s not MY God.” And I nod with sympathy, but a little voice inside me wonders, How do we know?

One of my favorite theology professors, David Kelsey, wrote a book a few years ago titled Understanding God Truly: What’s Theological about a Theological Education? By “theological education,” he means the type of education obtained at seminaries, although one learns about God in many other ways, too.

I haven’t read the book yet (hey, I’ve been busy!), but the title intrigues me. I can’t help wondering, “Do we ever understand God truly?”

Famous theologians like to talk about this topic all the time. So far, every theologian I have read says that we can only know God somewhat obliquely, partially, through a dark glass, etc. etc. And then they proceed to describe EXACTLY what God is like. This continues to perplex me.

Lately, I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas’s magnum opus, the Summa Theologiae, and I have been struck by how he presents his thoughts about God as certainty. Granted, he was writing a primer for students of theology to help them give answers to others. So if people ask you how something like the Holy Spirit can “process” from God without being a separate piece that is outside of God, Thomas Aquinas has the answer. Just look’er up and give people a straight answer.

But… sigh… there really doesn’t seem to be a straight answer about God. Other theologians (Barth comes to mind) would say that God has fully revealed God’s self in Scriptures and in Jesus Christ, but it’s not like the Bible and Jesus are completely crystal clear, either.

And so, I keep turning page after page of theology books, and I find some comfort in the fact that these books both present truths about God as truths and aver that God is unknowable. It seems paradoxical (and what about God is not paradoxical?), but it also keeps us seeking God.

And maybe that is why God keeps hiding in the shadows or shimmering just beneath the surface–so that we will keep looking.

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