I had a friend tell me this week that he just can’t wrap his mind around the idea of a “Cosmic Sky Dad” and what not. He said, “It’s hard for me to grasp a Big Cosmic Sky Dad..even if He is a loving Cosmic Sky Dad that one day created everything so that it would worship or be in union with Him or Her just seems really bizarre.”
I did explain to my good friend, who is a very dear friend with sincere intentions and honest questions, that that is a deeply Secular view of God and in all honesty a caricature of God and of the Christian understanding of God. Often we all approach the subject of theology proper (the doctrine of God) with clouded lens. Myself included. We have horribly informed presuppositions about God do we not? Scripture, Tradition, and the Church has never nor would they ever speak of God as being some sort of Cosmic Sky Dad.
I don’t know of any religious faith, outside of Secularism, nor my own especial, that would say this of God.
It’s like the story a friend told me of a 7 year old girl asking her atheist father about God, to which he responds, “Some people believe there’s an invisible person in the sky that knows everything and sometimes grants wishes if they ask him.” Of course this particular 7 year old was full of wisdom and skeptical because no one really believes that.
That is not at all what any serious Christian believes, nor any serious theist, would believe of God. That is more what Secularism believes in this country. Secularism would very easily believe in said Cosmic Sky Dad, but I digress.
My friend continued the dialogue this morning after reading my responses. He asked, “If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?” He went on, “Theology, to me seems to be answers to questions about a religion, a sort of fence or moat around a castle.”
I believe my friend posted a great question! One that made me think! How do we talk about God? What do we mean when we talk about Him? Who is He? What is He?
How would you answer that question. This is my response, but I have of course edited it out to be a little more detailed for the purpose of the blog, but it is the best I could do:
Theology is the study of God. That is what the Greek root words mean. Theology, in general, but Christianity especially, just doesn’t answer a question about a religion. A religion is a set of beliefs about metaphysics, anthropology, teleology, eschatology, so on and forth. I get the feeling you may be seeing it as most Americans are, not saying you are, just a suspicion, that you are having a Secular view of it that states “religion deals with the big man in the sky per the study of theology” but this is flawed especially in regards to the deeply incarnational theology of Christianity in general, but Orthodoxy especially.
If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God? (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?”
For anyone asking along with my friend this is where some deep engagement with Orthodoxy in the form of study and participation would deeply do one well. According to what I have come across in my short time of being Orthodox, the Church Fathers speak of God as person[Disclaimer: not to be confused with theistic personalism]. Not person how we are person, but person in His existence. Of course He is the Supreme Being. He is what He is. On our icons of Christ you will see Hebrew letters or sometimes Greek, one on the left, top of his head, and on the right. that mean, “I am” essentially. David Hart writes:
To speak of ‘God’ properly … is to speak of the one infinite ground of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is neither some particular thing posed over against the created universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a being, at least not in the way that a tree, a clock, or a god is; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are. He is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom all things live and move and have their being. He may be said to be ‘beyond being,’ if by ‘being’ one means the totality of finite things, but also may be called ‘being itself,’ in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity underlying all things.”
That is God in Christianity. He is Reality itself. That which is Real. the Numinous, the Mystery.
Just this morning I discovered some blogs by a priest friend that he had just written. They are reviewing David Hart’s (Orthodox philosopher) book “The Experience of God“. In it Hart says, “God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek, but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (p. 10). Whatfollows is an excerpt from Fr. Al’s writing, but he is quoting Hart’s book here as well:
God is ‘the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things’ (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by ‘being’ we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by ‘being’ we wish to signify God as ‘the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation’ (p. 30).
The true and living God must therefore be clearly distinguished from the various gods with whom humanity has always dealt throughout history. The gods, if any exist, do not transcend nature; they belong to nature. ‘They exist in space and time,’ explains Hart, ‘each of them is a distinct being rather than “being itself,” and it is they who are dependent upon the universe for their existence rather than the reverse. Of such gods there may be an endless diversity, while of God there can be only one. Or, better, God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one’ (p. 31).”
So I hope that is at least a beginners look at personhood, the Person of God, theology proper. It really isn’t even a beginner’s look, but a humble attempt to sincerely answer my friend’s questions. I’m not a theologian, pastor, nor a priest. I highly recommend one take my blog at face value and look further at better, brighter sources. Christianity created the concept of personhood. God is person! Again, this is where 3 things need to occur if you’re reading this and you have the same questions and concerns my friend does:
- Engagement with Orthodox theology per study and reading with a teacher if possible,
- Engagment with Orthodox worship per participation,
- Engagement with an Orthodox priest for I am not qualified to answer many of these questions and can only do so limited by my own ignorance. I’d wish better for you than my wimpy little answers and regurgitation of others smartness.
I’d really like to help anyone with these questions the best I can though, so I hope this does. I’d recommend also checking out Father Stephen’s blog on this matter of speaking about God.
I hope to further this notion of theology proper in another blog as sort of a review of Michael Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God,” which I just finished reading. In the book, Dr. Gorman makes the case that Philippians 2:6-11 is St. Paul’s master story and a revolutionary theology proper. In these verses we can see a grand story and an even grander theology proper. I will not elaborate on that any further, but merely leave you with these Scriptures as an answer to my friend’s question and something for you to ponder until another day. If you have questions about who God is and what He is please read these and contemplate upon them. This is Dr. Gorman’s translation of Phil. 2:6-11:
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
May God bless us all in our journey to find Him and know Him. May we be guided always by the Light of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to the His truth and love.