Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Problem of the Unknowable Otherness of God

The world we inherited from Platonic thought had the understanding that God was the ultimate other to humanity. That is to say that God is omniscient, omnipresent, all-knowing, and above all unchanging, etc. For sake of brevity, let us leave the nuances of Platonic thought alone and focus on the basic premise that God is infinite and humanity is finite.
Christians accept, on faith, that, in some way, scripture gives information about God and his dealings with humanity (Placher 14). God, in both the Old and New Testaments, is not a passive and immovable deity. While He has created “things too wonderful for me (Job 42:3),” God intervenes on behalf of Israel and becomes man in the incarnation of Jesus. While God is infinite other (transcendent), He is also present and involved in the affairs of humanity (immanent).
If we are to assume that God has a latent interest in humanity and has revealed himself to us through the incarnation and the scriptures, then we can logically assume that God wants to have a relationship with us. The platonic construct of God as immutable other may be true, but if it is, then God has lessened Himself to take on some finite form. Humanity, being finite, can only understand things that are finite. Thus, God in some way and in some minute portion, was forced to reveal himself is some finite and digestible bit. Humanity would otherwise never have been able to know God had God, in his infinite otherness, tried to reveal the wholeness of God's infinitude to humanity. Humanity could never comprehend it; thereby, defeating the purpose of the revelation of the divine infinitude.
The process would be analogous of a teacher trying to reveal to an illiterate kindergartener the chemical equation for sodium pentethol. The kindergartener would not even be able to read the basic letters and numbers of the equation, much less even understand what sodium pentathol is to begin with. Both the equation and the substance would be a complete disconnect. The child would not even be able to process anything. My point for this example is that God must reveal to humans something that they can comprehend in terms they can comprehend, even if that means that the divine infinitude must in some way become finite,ost or revealed in the finite.


BrotherBeal said...

Archer -

Just curious as to the exact answer you're proposing to this problem. It seems to me that Christians of any academic bent at all will recognize in the Incarnation an attempt by a transcendent God to become known to a finite world - the Word become flesh, so to speak. For Christians, if this semi-platonic viewpoint is helpful and enriches faith then all is well and we have no problem whatsoever - merely a theological exploration of a core Christian concept. However, assuming someone does indeed raise this objection to Christianity without accepting, on faith, that God a.) exists in the form that Christians contend, b.) has any interest in communicating with humanity in a direct manner, and c.) has chosen to do so through the texts held as canon by the church - if these three things are not assumed, then it seems the problem has been left unanswered. Mayhap it wasn't your intent to solve the problem from any other than a Christian perspective - but I wonder whether one can solve this problem without accepting Christian doctrine and simultaneously without entering into tired apologetics. Is there a direct answer to this problem for the atheist, or must other problems be dealt with first?

The Archer of the Forest said...

This is actually a snippet from a systematic paper I am attempting to write. This is, as you surmised, from a completely Christian perspective not an apology or anything like that. I mainly floated it to see what comments would surface. I am sort of befoozled as to where to go and what exactly is the point of this paper.

BreadBreaker said...

Though I am a Christian and usually approach this problem from that perspective, I think it can be looked at from a completely non-religious point of view. If we take as examples the order that appears to us in the manifested universe, one can make a case that all of creation is a mixture of the finite and the infinite, of order and chaos, or (as the alchemists put it) the fixed and the volatile. The shape of snowflakes, the table of elements, and the series of relationships that unfold from (for example) the Golden Proportion show that some events in the universe seem to be accidents, and some are not. More specifically, many outward aspects of a body's physical nature might be random, but the proportions underlying the size and relationship between its various parts are fixed and meaningful. So, although no two snowflakes look alike, all derive from one guiding principal which ensures that all have six sides. This is, I think, what Plato's theory of forms leads us towards. To me it's an example of the divine mixing with the earthly. The Christ story is only a more recent example of this principle.