Reflection April 10, 2016
Can We Really Understand God?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
There is an important theological truth that was stated in a book we used many years ago for a church book discussion. The book was Biblical Foundations of Spirituality: Touching a Finger to the Flame by Barbara Bowe, Scripture professor and friend of mine who died in 2010.
Here is that truth: “Speaking about God … is learning to say the least wrong thing about God, because anything we might say is, by definition, always wrong - wrong because our words can never fully capture or name adequately the infinite mystery we call God.”
If this is true - as I believe it is - then we must invariably struggle to fashion images of who God is and how God works among us. This struggle is made easier by two things: 1) the Bible and 2) the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we rightly say that we best come to understand who God is as revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If it is true about Jesus - then it is true about God. This is a vital foundational Christian understanding.
Again from Bowe: “In the traditional language … God is both infinite and pure spirit, a triune Godhead, a transcendent deity who is creator and sustainer of all life, the origin and goal of all human striving and of the universe itself. God is the One who was, who is, and who will be forever and ever.”
The above passage from Bowe is certainly a bit opaque. I would like YOU to re-read her words. It is not easy to completely understand. But that’s the point: God is not easy to understand. Our language breaks down when we try to talk about God.
Yet it’s important for us to at least try to understand God. It’s important for us to try and develop our God language so we can talk to one another about who God is and how God works in our lives. We do this keeping in mind our brother Paul’s wonderful preaching in Athens: “In him (God) we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
As Professor Marcus Borg notes in The God We Never Knew: “How are we to think of God? Some intellectual questions may not matter much, but this one has major consequences … Our concept (our understanding) of God matters. It can make God seem credible or incredible, plausible or highly improbable. It can also make God seem distant or near, absent or present. How we conceptualize (understand) God also affects our sense of what the Christian life is about.”
God is, to be sure, ultimately unknowable. But we get glimpses of God in the Bible and most especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For us Christians, the Gospels are the core teachings of the Bible. We need to be deeply immersed in the Gospels. We should read something from the Gospels each and every day.
In the Gospels, we find wonderful teachings about the nature of God and how God acts among us. These teachings come to us primarily through the parables of Jesus.
There is dispute about the exact number of parables in the Gospels - but there are certainly 33 or more. I believe it is through the parables that we can discover a deeper understanding of who God is and how God acts in our world.
Because of this belief, I’ve decided that beginning the first Sunday after Pentecost (Pentecost is May 15), I will begin a new series of sermons specifically based on Jesus’ parables. While I’ve not yet decided which parables to preach upon in this new series of sermons, the list will probably not include all 33!
Let me add something from the wonderful writer and clergyman, Frederick Buechner: “He [Jesus] speaks in parables, and though we have approached these parables reverentially all these many years and have heard them expounded as grave and reverent vehicles of holy truth, I suspect that many if not all of them were originally not grave at all but were antic, comic, often more than just a little shocking.”
It’s my hope that together we will experience the richness of the parables. Perhaps then, with the help of our master teacher, Jesus, we may discover the language which will help us all better understand who God is and how God works among us!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643