(Other Attributes of God)
††††††††† There seems to be a great theological tendency to assign attributes to God. Unfortunately, this process often leads to a making of God in man's image rather than man in God's. Religions often teach us that God is "all-powerful, all wise, all-knowing, all good," and the like. But such descriptions of the Divine, too often, are presenting an Image of God, which has us seeing Her as somewhat of a perfect human being rather than the "Being" which He is.
††††††††† Unintentionally, such descriptions are actually limiting of a Divine that cannot be limited. For example, to say that God is all knowing is actually to limit God to what can be known. But God is really transcendent of being all knowing, becoming knowledge itself; thus, She is not all knowing; but rather, becomes the source of all that can be known. In a like manner, God is not all wise, but wisdom itself. She is not all-powerful, but power itself. And we could go on and on about the traditional attributes assigned to God by men
††††††††† There is no way that a responsible theology can convey God's attributes in human like equivalents. The attributes we try to assign to Her cannot be "ALL" anything, because such implies a measurement or invites a comparison. There is simply no way to measure or compare God.
††††††††† Thomas Aquinas, while often limiting God in so much of his theology, lost sight of one of his own pronouncements:
Hence in the last resort ALL THAT NAN KNOWS OF GOD IS THAT HE DOES NOT KNOW HIM, since be knows that what God is surpasses all that we can understand of Him.
As Being Itself (Father), Diversity Itself (Son), and Love Itself (Holy Spirit): God becomes the Essence of the cosmos from which all things can exist. He thus transcends the concept of "all" of anything, and becomes the Source from which the "all" proceeds.
††††††††† Our contradiction in assigning God attributes becomes even more difficult when we consider the fact that our definitions of such things as power, goodness, mercy, justice and many other qualities we assign to God are vastly subjective concepts. If one says God is all-good: does he or she mean that God is good in the sense they might define goodness? This assigned attribute begs the questions: What would goodness be for God? Does God even need a concept of goodness? And, are all the processes we witness in nature "good," by our human definition?
††††††††† We have a tendency as human beings, especially when it comes to theology, to mold and create an Image of God that fits the mental mold we may have of Her. Theologians and preachers may claim that they are using Scripture as their source, but Scripture is often ambiguous and frequently taken out of context from the period in which it was written. Scripture can also be viewed in literal reading or more profoundly for its symbolic content. The tendency has been, and continues to be, to make one's interpretation fit the existing belief or concept. As an example: to a Jew, Scripture proclaims that Jesus could never be God Incarnate; but to a Christian, the same Jewish Old Testament is used to support Jesus' Divinity.
††††††††† Another point to be made about any revelation [See Revelation] is that such is only an inspiration from God. To approach revelation to answer questions about the nature or attributes of God, is to approach it from the wrong direction. The inspiration of God is related to the lives we live; not to the state of Her transcendent existence. Revelations also do not cover Her Divine Will, for what is the will of God will be, and it could be no other way. So any revelation, inspiration or scripture has to do with our human existence and has very little to do with what lies beyond it.
††††††††† The most any revelation can do: is give us a metaphor for that which cannot be put into language. This is the concept we have tried to convey for the meaning of the Trinity, one that suggests, an ideal of a God so immense that She cannot be understood Ė as opposed to, a literal implication of three persons or personalities.
††††††††† For human beings to assign God attributes is a bit like trying to assign characteristics to dimensions beyond the ones we experience. If worlds were to exist in conditions that are totally alien and beyond us, how could we hope to know the conditions under which they operate? The fact is, we are very limited in our knowledge of our own existence, so, how is it we so arrogantly make declarations about God's? Attributes are human qualities that simply do not apply to the Divine. God is the Force, which allows us to have attributes, being beyond any need for them himself.
††††††††† Much of the work of Carl Jung is based upon an unknowable Creative Force. And Karen Armstrong in her HISTORY OF GOD conveys that this ideal was not unique to much of the religious thinking of all ages and all peoples. Such concepts even existed in the Christian belief structure, as well as the Jewish and Muslim thinking of various ages. Even the ancient Greeks conveyed an ideal of an unknowable God in their philosophies. Needless to say, this unknowable First and Last Cause of all things is a basic concept of Hinduism, Buddhism, and so many other eastern beliefs. For them, our concept of a God becomes a Void or Nothingness; not in the sense that it does not exist, but rather, that it is beyond any possible human description.
††††††††† Armstrong does a nice job on relaying the point we are trying to make in discussing Maimonides: a Rabbi, physician and philosopher who lived from 1135 to 1204.
Yet, Maimonides was careful to maintain that GOD WAS ESSENTIALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND INACCESSIBLE TO HUMAN REASON. He proved God's existence by means of the arguments of Aristotle and Ibn Sina but insisted that God remains ineffable and indescribable because of His absolute simplicity. The prophets themselves had used parables and taught us that it was only possible to talk about God in any meaningful or extensive way in SYMBOLIC, ALLUSIVE LANGUAGE. We know THAT GOD CANNOT BE COMPARED TO ANY OF THE THINGS THAT EXIST. It is better, therefore, to use negative terminology when we attempt to describe Him. Instead of saying that "He exists," we should deny His nonexistence and so on. As with Ismailis, the use of the negative language was a discipline that would enhance our appreciation of God's transcendence, reminding us that the reality was quite distinct from any idea that we poor humans can conceive of Him. We cannot even say that God is 'good' because he is far more than anything we can mean by goodness. This is a way of excluding our imperfections from God, preventing us from projecting our hopes and desires onto Him. That would create a God in our own image and likeness. We can, however, use the Via Negativa to form some positive notions, Thus, when we say that God is not impotent' (instead of saying that He is powerful), it follows logically that God must be able to act. Since God is "not imperfect", His actions must also be perfect. When we say that God is "not ignorant" (meaning that He is wise), we can deduce that He is perfectly wise and fully informed. This kind of deductions can only be made about God's activities [or attributes], not about His Essence, which remains beyond our reach or intellect.
(Karen Armstrong, HISTORY OF GOD, First Ballantine Books edition, cl993, pp.l95 & 196)
While it may be very difficult to look at God in this way with our present way of thinking, responsible theology needs to convey the importance of seeing God in a manner that does not anthropomorphize Her. It becomes this anthropomorphizing of the Divine that encourages men to presume they can speak with the authority of God. Very often when this happens, the opinions of men are changed to the law of God, which can result in oppression and persecution. There can be no such thing as absolutes when it comes to our knowledge of the Divine, for God Himself becomes the only absolute; thus, we cannot intellectualize absolutes that are beyond the scope of our intellect - which God is. Godís existence is not really clear to our intellectual being, but it can only be recognized at a level of feeling and experience.
Faith, love, mercy, compassion, wisdom, and creative impulse: are all emotional in origin and might sometimes express themselves in our intellectualization, but they are truly a product of oneís feelings. The concept of God itself comes from a belief in our feeling that there is a transcendent dynamic of which we are a part. In other words, one cannot prove it; but one feels sure of it. The intellectualization of this feeling, then, becomes very much subjective. When we deal with subjective expression, we must come to recognize it for what it is, and in this way we can avoid making subjective expression dominant or dogmatic.
††††††††† If we accept the idea of free will, that God does not compel us to do anything; than, we have no right to compel others in the name of God. Theologies, which make dogmatic proclamations about the Divine, are overstepping their ability and their right. Theologies, which proclaim "they alone can offer salvation", are stating that they can speak for the Mind of God.
††††††††† Responsible theology will realize that the only way we can deal with our discussions of the Divine is by using metaphor, symbol, speculation, and analogy. It must always approach the concept of God with a humility that recognizes the limitations of human beings to speak of such matters. Even in interpretations of revelations, while the inspiration of the Holy Spirit may be incapable of error; the human being recording the inspiration, and those who may interpret it, are fully capable of misunderstanding, error, manipulation, selfish motivation, and even deceit. Even the holiest of men can only convey God the way He is filtered through their subjective experience of Her. This always adds a personal bias to any sacred writing. It also adds a personal bias to the way any individual might experience God; which may, or may not be, right for another individual to experience Her.
††††††††† The "Unchanging" nature of God is one of the more dangerous attributes we assign to God. Such an idea can often lead to misunderstanding because in it we lose sight of the paradox. To loose sight of the paradox often results in delusional or unreasonable conclusions.
††††††††† One of the more problematic conclusions reached about the "unchanging" nature of God, is, its use to support the concept that the Bible is God's complete and final word that will remain unchanged for all time.
In the first place, the Bible was written in a span of over a thousand years at the hands of men. It was copied and translated to various languages by men. And, any complete read of the work will reveal the changing characteristics of its message; the changing of the Divine Image presented; and the cultural influence of the people who wrote the various books. It should also be pointed out here: that those who claim this book to be the "unchanging" and "infallible" word of God ignore many of the directives they no longer feel are relevant! How many of these Laws are obeyed today?
- Not holding back a man's wages for a day. (Lev. 19:13)
- Stoning of women for not being a virgin at marriage. (Deut 22:21)
- Lending without expecting anything in return. (Luke 6:35)
- To the married I give this ruling, which is not mine but the Lord's: a wife must not separate herself from her husband; if she does, she must either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband; and the husband must not divorce his wife. (I Cor -11)
One could put a ten page list in here, but the idea that God, His Will, Her Word, or His Law: are unchanging, are often challenged by the actions of the very people who make the claim.
††††††††† In paradox we can make sense of an "unchanging" God that created, maintains, and is part of an ever-changing reality. We have the constant which is the singularity, which is an aspect of God that would be unchanging. But in the diversity, we have the ever-changing aspect of the Trinity, which is harmonious with an ever-changing universe. The Holy Spirit is a Love, which more or less addresses our individual needs in the manner that best served us. If change was needed and could benefit us there would be change; but there would always be the constant of Love.
††††††††† The paradox solves the dilemma and ends any debate: God is both changing and unchanging at the same time. One might even say that God's unchanging characteristic is change itself - how's that for a paradox? In paradox we avoid the pitfall of dogma because we realize that we can only perceive God in Her changing state - as the Singularity is incomprehensible in our physical state of existence.
††††††††† The same logic holds when we try to debate whether God is personal or impersonal. If we read the arguments to support each claim, we will find very valid points and rationalizations to each. This is because each statement can be true, at least if we see God in paradox.
††††††††† God loves and cares for every individual aspect of Her creation, after all, He is responsible for its existence. On the flip side, God could not care for one individual to the detriment or harm of the whole. God's caring for everything, as a whole, would seem to make Him impersonal. But, the fact She cares for every single thing that exists because of Him, would seem to make Her personal. We cannot pit the whole against the individual when it comes to God, because each is equally important to Her.
††††††††† In human relationships, we must constantly choose between self-interest and mutual interest. But with God, there would seem to be no such distinction. His self-interest is the interest of the whole, and every aspect of that whole. We could never conclude, if we believe in a concept of a Creator, that God doesn't care about the creation; for the very act of creating is the act of caring. If God offered us nothing more than existence, what a supreme gift that is of itself!
††††††††† Instead of assigning attributes to God, responsible theology will recognize the paradox, seeing God as the Source of attributes and containing them all. Once that paradox is recognized: it is possible to seek the attributes within the self that proceed from the paradox. The paradox helps us to remember the duality of the Source, helping us to accept personal responsibility for the manner in which we draw upon it.
††††††††† The concept is a bit like electricity. Electricity is a duality that is positively and negatively charged, yet, it is electricity in its singularity. Without one or the other charges, it does not exist. Now, we can use electricity safely, and for good purposes such as to provide us with light. On the other hand, we can misuse it and electrocute ourselves, or burn the house down - the choice is ours! The power of God is being, like the electricity it is both positive and negative; can be used for good or bad - but we are the ones who determine what we are going to do with our being.
††††††††† Using Maimonides approach here, one could speculate theologically that God is not without Intellect. But such an Intellect would be beyond any intellect we might be able to imagine, thus, we cannot assign it any attributes or limitations. As a paradox, not without intellect, God has a duality and a constant going beyond attributes or human comprehension - this would very much make Her a Force or Energy of sorts from which all other forces and energies proceed.
††††††††† In the Divine Paradox, we can appreciate our oneness, celebrate our diversity, and move towards a solving of our problems in the Spirit of Love. The paradoxical God is a God who truly transcends human description, which is in the end the only way God can be truly universal.
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