Further Probing between the Interface Between Apologetics and Dogmatics: In Search of the Living God Part Two
In laying forth the following I will draw on both the language of faith and secular reasoning in providing a rationale in the effort to explain something essential about the Christian revelation, which in some fundamental ways is beyond understanding. An essential part of the “mystery” of Christ is that the Christian pathway can only be entered by some basic commitment to faith as the basis of “know[ing] the truth” in Christ, “the truth [that] will set you free” (John 8:31-32) in a way that would be difficult to imagine from a purely naturalistic perspective. However circular this may seem, a step of faith in utter sincerity, however feeble, is a precondition, though not the only one in gaining a first-hand sense of the revelation of God in Christ reconciling the world (1 Corinthians 5:19). The power to convey something of the depths and riches of the Christian pathway may well be beyond my limited persuasive powers, in which conversion, in any event, is the work of God. The wind blows where it will (John 3:3), but if today, you hear the voice of God, ever so faintly, I encourage you to pay heed to the small still voice that can easily fade, for upon its prompting, a great deal resides.
The starting point with which I will begin is the core claim of faith that Christ is the full embodiment (Incarnation) of God in human flesh, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), which if accepted as valid makes other claims of truth, problematic, at the very least. There is much packed into this statement, including the very notion of "God," particularly when viewed in the monotheistic traditions as defined, however analogically as a being as well as "a dynamic, pulsating activity" (C.S. Lewis) that incorporates being, in which God is both outside history, culture, and nature (that is, transcendent) while totally immersed (or immanent) within.
There is no pantheistic sense of engulfment implied here in which God is somehow perceived as synonymous with the universe or even in the sense in which the earth might be viewed as "God's body" as some eco-theologies have it. Rather, God's loving, transcendent presence infuses the created world--a presence that is both veiled and partially visible through the eyes of faith as a discerned revelation of a power that is not simply our own. This presence has biblical, theological, personal, and interpersonal warrant which in its 2000 year totality adds up to "a mighty cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). Any vital encounter with or even the effort to understand the faith from a distanced perspective would be well served through a substantial grappling with some of the many voices and texts of the claims made by these witnesses as a critical baseline of “the evidence [though clearly not proof) of the things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Thus, the legacy of the saints and sinners who have made up the body of Christ for 2000 years serves as a crucial source of evidence in its own right which is often ignored or simply too easily dismissed by many within and outside the household of faith. The depth and breadth of such testimony as "the assurance of things hoped for,” serves as a type of prima facie evidence in which any entrance into its pathway, and also, simply understanding on its own terms, requires. Such appreciation, in turn, opens the possibility of its viability as well as a more grounded basis for its rejection. If nothing else, such receptivity to the radical possibility of faith if at the least, as an evocative hypothesis with serious intent, opens up the receptivity of God's indwelling, which, itself, as the grace of God, is a gift that no mere willing could ever bring around.
When one enters into the Christian pathway the possibility of further unveiling of the revelatory insight of God is opened up; an unveiling which can only remain incomplete, given the nature of God's reality in which we can know something, in fact, through Scripture, theological and ecclesial reflection, and our own personal probing, a great deal, but even so, much remains clouded in the enduring mystery of Christ in which we can only know in part with the promise in eternity in knowing in full. Thus, the Christian revelation is a perpetual process of unveiling in which faith becomes the basis of further knowledge and insight.
There are other ways much more elegant and persuasive than that attempted here to convey something of the ineffable, but partially knowable God grounded in the biblical revelation; one, for example, that the Apostle Paul utilized when seeking to communicate with ancient Greek philosophers (Acts 17:16-34) through the analogy of the "unknown God." Yet, he was only partially successful at best in persuading just a few, as Paul moved on from "pagan" Athens to the newly formed faith community in Corinth. There he spent a great deal of concentrated time on instructing and building up the "saints" through the persuasive power of discerning dogmatics as embodied in the First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. As Christ expressed it about the Holy Spirit, "the wind blows where it wishes" in which a small still voice may be discernable which requires highly attuned ears to hear a most softly spoken intonation of God through a voice that may sound like foolishness to many (1 Corinthians 1: 18-25).
The underlying reality is that the persuasive argument of faith cannot be squared with language constructs outside of its premises in which dialogue as an ultimate value in its own right can lead too easily to compromise, with much lost, or at the least, stalemate with little gained in relationship to the ultimate objective of faith (Matthew 28:19). In the final analysis, the mystery of God in Christ reconciling the world cannot be penetrated by reason or even the logic of the better argument, though these can be resources. At some fundamental level one needs to give a positive assent in which the “proof” is the evidence of things not seen that has the capacity to be revealed, however much through a mirror dimly through a discerning heart and mind receptive to the persuasive voice of God, the source of almighty power and of all infinite indwelling love.
Until my own conversion in 1972, I had no understanding whatsoever of anything beyond the natural; that there could be transcendent reality was not something I fought against. It was simply beyond my comprehension, though not beyond my acquired knowledge given my early faith formation in the Greek Orthodox Church where I gained a basic knowledge of the language of faith. It was a faith, the living language of which was outside of my then current sense of reality, which did serve as a touchstone as I re-encountered the possibility of faith in God in Christ as a young adult.
What happened was as “simple” and as subtle as the following. I was asked directly to consider Christ as my Lord and Savior. The evangelical language was a bit strange, but in perceiving something of the quality of the moment I stayed with the process that was opening up to me. I said to this college student who I never met before; a friend in the most spiritual sense of the term who was pivotal in a radical re-orientation of my life. I said to him something to the effect that when I was a child that “other voice” one hears in the realm of conscience I took as the voice of God, but then at age 24, I “knew” that that voice was simply another aspect of my own consciousness. Thus, my young adult belief was that there was no reality, if not beyond, in some way, the existential self, that there was no beyond the natural realm, in any event that could be associated with reality.
It was at that precise moment that I did hear a small still voice; an utterly non-threatening perception that that other voice in fact, could be God. In this imperecptible moment, an invitation was offered to explore that possibility with the most radical and unswerving intent as if it were true that God was, in fact real. I discerned at that point that some level of unswerving commitment to the "hypothesis" was essential in order to find out the reality of it, and more significantly, that there was something of fundamental significance in this matter.
More precisely put, the doorway of faith in God became unveiled, opening to me a relaxed and adventurous assurance that this is the pathway I should follow. This was more than a possibility, but a source of revelation itself that came to me in a way that I could recognize as the most authentic reality that I could fathom, what the gospel writers refer to as a pearl of grace worth which requires all of one’s wealth as the price of purchase (Matthew 13:45).
In that experience the revelation of God linked in some way that I did not thoroughly understand, to Christ, became clear, even as the fuller implications of God’s awesome significance can only be but continually worked out through and beyond a single life process. What did become crystal clear in that long ago event in 1972 was a distinctive understanding of God, who was unfathomably different than what could be perceived through the natural, though incredibly immersed within my own sense of reality as well as throughout the entire created order.
From this basis, I gained an appreciation for the significance of the Bible as a primary source in understanding and grappling with God as well as the central role of Christ as touchstone for and embodiment of the living God for the human race and of the entire created order, subjects of which will need to be discussed at another time.