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What God is… not…. (?)

June 5, 2019

Continuing along my journey as a half-baked scholar, I was recently reading through a history of how God has been described, historically– and one part of it in particular remains particularly interesting, and particularly odd at the same time.

A lot of what we say about God, is really saying what He isn’t.

Think about it: we describe God as eternal, unending, immortal, infinite, impassible (unchangeable), and so forth. We also have some handful of broad-brush terms, like the omnis– ominipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, true (that would be all-powerful, present everywhere, and all knowing) but these describe His abilities or power, but they don’t describe Him per se.

It’s the first set of words that are, at the moment, most on my mind: what does it mean, practically, that we describe God so heavily based on what He is not? (Even eternal is a negative term– not having an ending; sort of like infinite, which is also a negative word– not finite.) Why is it so hard to describe who God is?

Because first and foremost, God is really, really big. So big that since ancient times, He has been described as He who cannot be circumscribed– you cannot draw a circle around His boundaries. He’s not that sort of being. We can say that He cares enough to get to know us, and He has given us some comparatives of Himself– He is loving, like a Father; He is relational, and personal. But when it comes to describing Him in who He most basically is– we are incapable of doing it.

Language fails.

Our minds fail.

We cannot comprehend Him, or even begin to describe Him. We simply can say that He is loving, holy and good– whatever else He is.

It might seem that I am making too big a deal of this; I don’t mean to. I actually thing that this is a point that is worth remembering, and worth… not understanding, but bowing in worship over.

Atheists and pagans will sometimes describe Christians derisively as people who turn to an ‘imaginary friend.’ They sneer at the silliness of believing in someone that, as far as they are concerned, has provided no evidence that He exists.

I think that if I worshiped a God that I could describe and fully understand, they might have some cause to mock. If my God could be contained in my language and understood by my mind, then my imagination and mind and language might in some ways be larger than God. Since ancient times– in fact, since before the New Testament– God has proven and said to His people that He is beyond our imagination and understanding. That’s something that you wouldn’t expect from a made-up God, but is exactly what you should expect from a God who made us up– us, and everything else that is.

We do not understand a huge amount of what exists in this universe. We do not understand the language that is used, that codes our DNA and regulates the functioning of our cells. We are the product of a mind that is beyond our comprehension– even as His programming has proven to be (at least thus far) profoundly mysterious to us. If one day we begin to really understand His programming, I have no doubt that this will only continue to confirm just how much more dazzlingly complex and intricate that language is, and so, will further prove how much bigger than us God is.

As for those who say He has left no evidence– we know that organized information and language is the product of intelligence. It doesn’t come about by accident. Each one of us, simply by functioning according to our DNA, stands as proof (along with all other things that run on DNA, from viruses to bunny rabbits) of His existence, and His being greater than what we could hope to imagine.

He even said as much, as He said, via Isaiah the prophet “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9 NIV)

About the best I can hope for, really, is to be able to tell you a little bit about what God does, and a little bit about what He is, and a lot about what He is not– but at the end of it all, to fall silent in worship, of a God who cannot be contained by anything in this universe, nor described.

And at the same time, of a God who managed to locate Himself in our world as a human being, taking on our humanity, and dying (because of a love that is also deeper than we can grasp) to save us. He is best revealed by Jesus, and His dying on the cross for us in particular, and is again inexplicable in how He could do this, and more, why He would have such a love for us.

And yet, He has.

This is, truly, a mystery– something we grasp at, but only partially. My own ramblings here scarcely do the subject justice.

And where words fail and are utterly insufficient– be awestruck, and moved to worship.