Tuesday, 5 January 2010

God is not a drunkard

I know, you'd only just gotten your heads around the idea that God is a drunkard. But we were talking Dionysius, and Dionysius doesn't end with that, so nor shall we. If you remember, Dionysius thinks that once you start talking about God, you have to keep talking about God until you literally can't talk any more. Once you've spent a while trying to use every word you can think of to speak about God, you start to realise that even if you could name God with every name there was, it still wouldn't be enough.

It's a bit like when you've looked at a word for so long that it stops looking like a word at all; or, perhaps better, like when you've talked and talked and talked until sudden you realise you're not saying anything anymore, and so you shut up. First of all, you think: God's not a drunkard. That's obviously a totally inadequate name for God. He's so much more than that. So you try for some more appropriate names: God is Father. But wait, that's not enough either. God is Trinity: but that's still not enough. It's like in Super Mario, where you jump on a bit of rock, only for it to collapse underneath you, so you have to keep jumping, on to the next one, back up that big pile of words you just worked your way down to get to 'God is a drunkard' in the first place. Until eventually, you realise that all of your words are inadequate. God is not a drunkard. God is not a Father. God is not infinite. God is not like anything we know, any words we have. But even that's inadequate, and you have to start denying the denials: God's not like or unlike anything we know. He's not limited or limitless. He is not any of our words, and he's not not any of our words.

It's like Moses climbing up Mount Zion to meet God: first he leaves behind all the people of Israel, the hustle and bustle, the noises, the smells, the colours. And he heads up the mountain with the elders. But eventually even they are left behind, and it's just Moses, on his own, climbing upwards. And he asks God to show his face, but all he sees is the back of God, the absence of God, darkness.

And here, in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence, with the wreckage of our words lying shattered around us: here, beyond knowledge, beyond unknowing: here is God, when our words and our understanding falter and fail. Beyond our grasp, beyond our control: the unknowable, unnameable God.


Annie Holmes said...

...And then the heresy police start spluttering? *Love* this (still).

Gabriel Smy said...


Angie said...

wow - Dionysius the dude

Andrew said...

Isn't that brilliant beyondness also where we really meet or encounter other people?

The mystic experiences that give rise to this sort of idea about the 'absence of God' do not also represent absence of any experience. And it's this sense of transcendence ('sense', because God Is beyond even the beyondness that we experience) that often permeates what we are reaching for when we talk about 'community'.

That's not meant to be controversial, really, but it's interesting that we find the essence of each other and the essence of God both to be 'whereof...one must be silent'.

On the other hand, the facts that the feeling is so significant, and that it is epistemically so unlike the way we know about anything else, make me question how to interpret it. If God is beyond beyondness, how can we even recognise him?

(Silly Andrew, he's the one with the sandals and the halo)