Friday, September 18, 2009

No one has ever seen God, but . . .

Yesterday I was pleased to find a timely article in Christianity Today about, of all things, my most recent post's topic--how church architecture can teach about God and guide us into worship. (Well, really, it's about how the mystery of God guides us into a true knowledge of him.)

Westminster Abbey in London is one of the few places in the world that doesn't disappoint. The main part of Westminster is the cathedral: an enormous, basilica-style monastery of Gothic architecture that leaves one with a breathtaking vision of the height and depth of, if not God, at least of the worshipers' concept of God.

With the sheer amount of space between the floor and soaring vaults, from the back of the nave to the altar, as well as the complicated artistry on every wall and window, you find yourself awed by everything that speaks of the unimaginable greatness of God. You have a peculiar sense that God is very present and yet not altogether accessible. This is not an unpleasant experience; on the contrary, you realize that your idea of God has probably been domesticated and confined.

The author goes on to explain how we as Christians live in the tension of God's immanence (that he is present and accessible) and his transcendance (that he is infinitely beyond us). On one hand, God is our Creator; it is we who are finite and within his grasp, not the other way around. He remains a mystery beyond us, and at best we can only learn about him what he has himself, in his lordship over us, deigned to reveal.*

"God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen." (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

"Do you know how God controls the clouds
and makes his lightning flash?
Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?
You who swelter in your clothes
when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
can you join him in spreading out the skies,
hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

"Tell us what we should say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
Should he be told that I want to speak?
Would any man ask to be swallowed up?
Now no one can look at the sun,
bright as it is in the skies
after the wind has swept them clean.
Out of the north he comes in golden splendor;
God comes in awesome majesty.
The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power;
in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.
Therefore, men revere him,
for he does not have regard for any who think they are wise."
(Job 37:15-24)

On the other hand, God has in fact revealed himself. He spoke to Moses and the Patriarchs, revealed his Law, and manifested himself in storms and visions. He later spoke through his prophets. But mostly God spoke through his actions; he's known by what he does. And then there's Jesus, God-in-the-flesh.

"No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:18)

"Jesus answered: 'Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.' " (John 14:9-11)

Beyond that, God has given us his Word and the sacraments, his "visible words" to speak to us and guide us. God isn't always entirely a mystery. But then again, when we think we know his Word, we keep on finding more and more about God and his story there, never to be fully probed.

How do we capture both of these realities in our worship--not only in our church buildings, but even more so in our songs, actions, liturgy, sacraments, preaching, and the like? What would it look like to honor both of these realities and embody them in our corporate worship so that both of these aspects of God are communicated and entered into? I'd appreciate your feedback.

*For an amazing, eye-opening discussion of God's "immanence" and "transcendance" and how it relates to our knowlege of God, see the first chapter of John Frame's book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

I am growing in my appreciation of taking communion each Sunday at our church, I think.

Good article, definitely worthy of reflection. I think alot of times, or maybe in a certain way all the time, our knowledge can get in the way of God's revelation to us of himself. We already know it, and our no longer open.

I love the call to continual ascent toward God. Can hardly put this in words, because I'm afraid philosophy has shaped my thinking more than God's revelation, sometimes. Yet words (and sacrament, as you note) from God do have their important place.