Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Uncontainable God.

I read City of God by E.L. Doctorow over Easter. It is one of the books on the 1001 list. So, how did I find it? Intriguing, thought-provoking, frustrating, confusing ... but I really enjoyed it. A word of warning - the plot is pretty much secondary to this book. In fact large portions of the book are tied fairly tenuously to the main plot and there are various threads. Part of the difficulty is that there are several different narrators but it is not necessarily straight forward to work out who is narrating which bits, especially in the beginning. There was a holocaust subplot which I found really interesting.

Throughout the book there are references to cosmology, metaphysics, consciousness, language and of course religion. One of the major characters is a priest who is losing his religion. Doctorow brings great insight to many topics conveying both the beauty/complexity of life that is so often coupled with absurdity but it was disappointing in his treatment of faith that he didn't recognise the complexity inherent in orthodox Christianity. I'm not sure that I can recommend this book to everyone but I found it a worthwhile read.

A few quotes from the book:

That the universe including our consciousness of it would come into being by some fluke happenstance, that this dark universe of incalculable magnitude has been accidentally self-generated ... is even more absurd than the idea of a creator.
Couldn't agree more.

To presume to contain God in this Christian story of ours, to hold Him, circumscribe Him, the author of everything we can conceive and everything we cannot conceive ... in our story of Him?

True - if the Christian story is meant to contain God, constrain Him or circumscribe Him. As Paul says we see "through the glass darkly" and while we can speak the truth about God it in no way comes close to a full description of God. All the pictures, stories and imagery of the bible is a record of the interaction of God, the awesome creator of the universe, with human beings, and because our brains and especially our language is limited there is always going to be seemingly contradictory statements that we hold in tension ... transcendence and immanence, sovereignty and free will etc, etc.

A good example of this is the trinity. Three persons in one God - easy to say but any extended descriptions of the trinity usually end up with unbalanced, unorthodox nuances. Some people will point to that as evidence that Christianity is false ... how does it work?... isn't it contradictory? ... but many of those same people have no problem with accepting quantum mechanics as correct. Mathematically it works but if you try to think about what it means intrinsically ... what does it mean to be both wave-like and particle-like ... we hit a brick wall because are brains are made to think in terms of the normal everyday stuff. Quantum mechanics allows things that are completely opposite intuitively to each other to exist without problem. Why do we expect the creator God to conform to our ideas of what is possible?

I do not deny that much of what is termed religion is on attempt to contain God, as humans we almost have an overwhelming compulsion to contain Him ... make Him safe ... but an encounter with the living God is different, both wild and exhilarating but never safe. Ultimately we need to make the decision of whether we are going to accept this BIG GOD, revealed in the bible if we open our eyes, or reject Him.


Ref: 1% Well-read Challenge, 1001 Book List, A-Z Challenge

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