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September 06, 2005

what is god

Dawn Patrol guest blogger The Raving Atheist wrote in a guest post at the DP:

The most frustrating thing for an atheist is to debate a believer who refuses to answer the question, "What is God?" It's the threshold issue in any theological argument. The discussion can't get started unless the parties address it.

I do not wish to unnecessarily annoy any argumentative atheists, and so I've been considering my answer to TRA's question.

As a believer in God I might retort that his question oversimplifies God. Mightn't I as easily ask "what is The United States of America?" A simple answer such as "a nation comprised of fifty states united by a federal government into a democratic republic" would be correct, but woefully uninformative, particularly to one who doubts such a nation actually exists. That short answer doesn't describe what living in America is like, it does not even talk about economy, ethnic composition, wars, industry, innovation or climate. Yet all such things are aspects or characteristics of The United States.

On the other hand I find TRA's question appealing inasmuch as it is fair. If God exists, then he must have certain charactaristics inherent to all things that exist, such as, for example, the charactaristic of having distinct characteristics. But what if God's characteristics are so bizarre, so remote, so other that they are completely undiscernable to humans? If the existence of God is completely unperceivable, if he does not in any way affect me and I do not in any way affect him, then perhaps concluding that he does not exist, while technically incorrect, is practically workable.

But I believe that he exists, and that he is perceivable. I believe that he affects us, and is affected by us. I believe, in fact, that those charactaristics are integral to what he is.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [John 1:1]

Think for a moment about God identifed as "the Word." There are few things which distinctly identify us as a species more profoundly than words. We use language to abstract, encapsulate and transmit complex concepts from one person to another. When one person uses words to communicate with another person, he assumes that the little capsules of meaning which are words can be unpacked by the hearer and linked to the concept which the speaker intended. The speaker and the listener cannot communicate without this confidence that through the use of words as semaphores, they can synchronize their minds, and think about the same things, even experience the same emotions. Words bridge the gap which space and even time places between human minds. When one person reads or hears the words of another person, they are able to meet in the shared space of those words in a profound way that they could not otherwise do.

John writes about God not as one who chooses to talk to us in our words so that we can understand his meaning, but as the mode of communication itself, as a shared space; something partly from him and partly from us. God himself became that capsule of meaning, which he could understand, and which we also could understand. Language is as intrinsic to what God is as it is intrinsic to what we are.

If this is true, then the existence of God is not an incidental fact which may or may not be relevant to a particular human being. If this is true, then each of us is meant to communicate with him. As wordy as it is, that's as simple an answer as I can give.

Posted by joel at September 6, 2005 11:33 PM

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so God walked and talked with adam & eve in the garden - daily. satan was very jealous. as yet, he hadn't prevailed on either adam or eve. being the wily, crafty, sneaky, snake he is, he one day snuck up behind god, and as god opened his mouth to speak, satan grabbed hold of god's tongue and tied it in a knot so he could say nothing. for days satan gloated over his victory and revelled in the 'peace and quiet'. one day he was taunting god because of his inability to speak. god was gesturing and making strange sounds - but nothing that sounded like speech - god was finally able to communicate to satan that he had something important to say, if satan would just loose his tongue for one moment. being the one in control at the time, satan agreed - but limited god's comments to the utterance not of one moment, but of one word, and one word only. god assented ... satan untied his tongue ... god spoke one word - JESUS. and the rest is history.

Posted by: uncle jim [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 7, 2005 11:44 PM

I had never heard that version before. It sounds vaguely Hindu, like a tale wherein God and Satan are twins or some such nonsense.

Posted by: Joel [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 8, 2005 12:34 AM

Manichean heresy, I think.

Anyway, Joel, you were leading up to what I consider the most profound and awesome and beautifully phrased verse in the bible, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

How much theology and hope is contained in that one short sentence?

Posted by: Robert N G [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 8, 2005 08:58 PM

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