Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 14th, 2015 by Joel Watts

The incomprehensibleness of God – St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa (eastern ortodox icon)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (eastern ortodox icon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For leaving behind everything that is observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and the incomprehensible, and there it sees God. This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness. Wherefore John the sublime, who penetrated into the luminous darkness, says, No one has ever seen God, thus asserting that knowledge of the divine essence is unattainable not only by men but also by every intelligent creature. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, 167.

There are images of God that are healthy but many that reveal nothing more than our own subjective desires, serving as a psychological crutch to help us make sense of our importance or our tragedies.

For me, in moving from Fundamentalism to Christianity, apophatic theology helped tremendously. It is not a one-sided theology as many often see it, but one part of the theological spectrum. For me, barely scratching the surface, it allows me not to have to worry about an “accurate” definition of God. Indeed, as St. Gregory of Nyssa puts it, this act and imagination is unattainable. This fact must keep the theologian and every believer humble. God is not ours to define. God the transcendent…

But, instead we focus on God the immanent, which is Jesus Christ. If Christ is a historical person with a historical goal, then we should do our best to understand that, within history and within Christian theology.

But, I am getting off track.

St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches us that our images of God are all faulty. As good friend of mine has compared God to the image of Disneyland. This is wisdom, of course, to know that we as humans are extremely inadequate in trying to draft an image for the Immortal, Invisible, and Transcendent.

For a good paper/chapter on understanding Apophatic, or Negative, theology, see here.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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