Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Coherence of Christian Belief

God does not give on the same plane of being and activity as creatures, as one among others and therefore God is not in potential competition (or co-operation) with them. Non-competitiveness among creatures - their co-operation on the same plane of causality - always brings with it the potential for competition: Since I perform part of what needs to be done and you perform the rest, to the extent I act, you need not; and the more I act, the less you need to. Even when we co-operate, therefore, our actions involve a kind of competitive either/or of scope and extent. Unlike this co-operation among creatures, relations with God are utterly non-competitive because God, from beyond this plane of created reality, brings about the whole plane of creaturely being and activity in its goodness. (Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity, pp. 3-4.)


God is not one (super) being among others. God is not defined as God over against us. (I am not you, and that is part of what makes me me. But not so with God and me.) God is not even just beyond us, not merely incomprehensible, if we conceive of these terms to mean that God is on the same background as us. (As Phillip said to me recently. Actually, yesterday!). Contrary to this, God is transcendent. This means that, as Phillip says, God is not in competition with us (or in cooperation with us for that matter). This is one facet (perhaps the central one) of the uniquely Christian doctrine of God and is a reason why the Genesis creation stories are not to be considered as merely one more example of the generic creation myth of antiquity. The transcendence of God means that God can providentially undergird all that is without in any way compromising creation's own being. God can become fully human in Jesus and remain God without the diminution of either humanity or divinity. God's grace operates and saves us entirely without any contribution from us, yet this in no way diminishes the importance of our response. The sacraments of the church convey an inward grace without diminishing in any way the nature of the 'stuff' of the sacrament. Which is all to say that God is love, and free to love us, without compulsion or need, or due to any kind of mutual self-definition-through-difference, but does this as a total act of absolute love.

It is this fundamental theological insight that prevents Christian belief from spiralling off into incoherence.

Unless the Christian sense of the divine is differentiated from anything and everything in the being of the world, unless the Chrsitian God is differentiated from what philosophers have called the whole, all the Christian mysteries cease to be mysteries. Either they become impossibilities, or they become accommodated to natural necessities, or they are made to compete with what is natural … The Christian distinction between God and the world allows the formulations of the other mysteries to say something and prevents them from shattering as statements. (Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology, p. 38)



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