Is our God too small and anthropomorphic?

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O'Darby

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I've always had a vague, troubling sense that the God of most and perhaps all Christians is too small and anthropomorphic (i.e., too human-like). I'm not pointing fingers – this is true of me as well.

The God of Christianity is personal but not a person in any human sense. We talk about the three persons of the Trinity, but they obviously aren't persons in any anthropomorphic sense. The Trinity is a human attempt to express an unfathomable, non-human mystery.

God is spirit. God is eternal. God is transcendent. God is wholly other (and holy other, too). This is true of all three persons of the Trinity and the Trinity as a whole.

The creation had a beginning. God did not. Eternity isn't a measurement of time, but suffice it to say that the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness existed "before" the creation in some mysterious way that is incomprehensible in human terms.

We know God only as He has revealed Himself. We don't know and can't comprehend the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.

God has revealed Himself in the Bible – but the Bible isn't God. It's what God communicated to human authors in human language. Even the Bible is an unfolding revelation in which God communicated through Moses to primitive Israelites what they were capable of grasping and through authors like Luke, John and Paul what the more sophisticated people of their time were capable of understanding.

Jesus wasn't the Second Person of the Trinity. He was the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity (assuming you're a Trinitarian). He was the human image of God, which is something quite different from the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.

I'm always struck by how much emphasis is placed on Jesus and the Bible at the expense of the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness. This is understandable, not only because the Bible and Jesus are central to Christianity, but also because we find it easier to relate to them. We can get our minds around them in a way we can't get them around the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.

We even tend to think of the Father and the Holy Spirit in these terms. They tend to play second fiddle to Jesus in the thinking of many Christians because they are harder to get our minds around, but when we do think of them it's typically in highly anthropomorphic terms. The Father is the stern disciplinarian while the Holy Spirit is more the good guy or big brother who tries to nudge us along the path of righteousness.

We speak confidently of God's holiness, love, justice, wrath, anger, etc., as though we knew what this all meant. These are human terms. God's holiness, love, justice and wrath are the non-human attributes of an Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness. We have no real grasp of them at all apart from God's revelation.

Seldom, it seems to me, do we think of God in His totality – the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness. Why? Because God in His fullness is an almost complete mystery. (Even "He" and "Him" are anthropomorphisms.)

I find that my own Christianity has been enhanced greatly by trying to keep God in His mysterious fullness in the forefront of my thinking. When I pray or enter into silent communion, it's this God whom I have in mind.

I've mentioned on several threads The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century Christian classic written by an anonymous monk for other monks. To commune with God, he wrote, one must abandon all human notions of God's attributes and enter a "cloud of unknowing" where this Wholly Transcendent Other can speak, free of all the anthropomorphisms we attach to Him.

To step outside the Christian realm, I've always been struck by the opening sentences of the Tao Te Ching, the "bible" of Taoism: "The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao, the name that can be named is not the eternal name." In its non-Christian way, this does express what I'm getting at.

I'm not suggesting that it's in any way "wrong" to think of God in biblical or Father-Son-Spirit terms since this is what God has revealed to us and knows we are capable of getting our minds around (not fully, of course, but at least enough to guide us in our Christian walks).

My point is only that I think we end up with notions of God that are too small if we forget that we're really talking about an Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness. It's very useful, I find, to sometimes pray to and commune with this Divine Mystery.
 
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Randy Kluth

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I've always had a vague, troubling sense that the God of most and perhaps all Christians is too small and anthropomorphic (i.e., too human-like). I'm not pointing fingers – this is true of me as well.

The God of Christianity is personal but not a person in any human sense. We talk about the three persons of the Trinity, but they obviously aren't persons in any anthropomorphic sense. The Trinity is a human attempt to express an unfathomable, non-human mystery.

God is spirit. God is eternal. God is transcendent. God is wholly other (and holy other, too). This is true of all three persons of the Trinity and the Trinity as a whole.

The creation had a beginning. God did not. Eternity isn't a measurement of time, but suffice it to say that the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness existed "before" the creation in some mysterious way that is incomprehensible in human terms.
Yes, well said. Time is a measure of created things. There is no measure for God. He is simply the thing that preexisted everything, and we could never hope to get there to understand it personally. We can only conceive of it as an idea. But even our ideas are measured by time and created conceptions.
We know God only as He has revealed Himself. We don't know and can't comprehend the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.
Yes, that's why we need God's Word, because it reveals who God is to us in terms that we can understand. We can make contact with God's Spirit, which is transmitted via the Word in a form we were created to comprehend.
Jesus wasn't the Second Person of the Trinity. He was the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity (assuming you're a Trinitarian). He was the human image of God, which is something quite different from the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.
I can't agree with this largely because it is confusing. Jesus is indeed the 2nd Person of the Trinity, although ranking him is not the thing I'm focused upon. It is the fact Jesus is Deity, and as such must be part of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. We cannot separate Jesus, the man, from the Son of God, who is also a man.
We even tend to think of the Father and the Holy Spirit in these terms. They tend to play second fiddle to Jesus in the thinking of many Christians because they are harder to get our minds around, but when we do think of them it's typically in highly anthropomorphic terms. The Father is the stern disciplinarian while the Holy Spirit is more the good guy or big brother who tries to nudge us along the path of righteousness.
Yes, in this sense I agree with you. This is over-anthropomorphizing the Trinity.
We speak confidently of God's holiness, love, justice, wrath, anger, etc., as though we knew what this all meant. These are human terms. God's holiness, love, justice and wrath are the non-human attributes of an Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness. We have no real grasp of them at all apart from God's revelation.
This plays into a Hobbes-like argument, that our language cannot express infinite religious concepts. The Word of God is a perfect example of God's ability to express Himself in a way we can understand divine truths.

We can easily understand what God's "wrath" is. We can easily understand what "sin" is, and why God is "hostile" to it. But yes, we must not overly-humanize God's "wrath," as if God is Zeus throwing fits and hurling lightning bolts like any old sinful human being.
I find that my own Christianity has been enhanced greatly by trying to keep God in His mysterious fullness in the forefront of my thinking. When I pray or enter into silent communion, it's this God whom I have in mind.
Yes, it is a sign of respect to keep God in His "holy box," where we humbly admit we don't really know Him. We must concede to Him His own personal knowledge and rights to declare "truth" to us. We cannot critically-analyze His judgments, or "fact check" Him.
I've mentioned on several threads The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century Christian classic written by an anonymous monk for other monks. To commune with God, he wrote, one must abandon all human notions of God's attributes and enter a "cloud of unknowing" where this Wholly Transcendent Other can speak, free of all the anthropomorphisms we attach to Him.
That's called "dying to yourself." We resign ourselves to dependence upon God to know what to do in life. We trust that He guides us by showing us what is right and what is wrong. Nothing wrong with this. We surrender to divine revelation as the source of truth and righteousness.
To step outside the Christian realm, I've always been struck by the opening sentences of the Tao Te Ching, the "bible" of Taoism: "The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao, the name that can be named is not the eternal name." In its non-Christian way, this does express what I'm getting at.
Well, pagan philosophy is similar to but also different from divine revelation. Paganism recognizes the mystery of the infinite, perhaps, but does not recognize God within Creation, which is what God's Word reveals to those who submit to it.
I'm not suggesting that it's in any way "wrong" to think of God in biblical or Father-Son-Spirit terms since this is what God has revealed to us and knows we are capable of getting our minds around (not fully, of course, but at least enough to guide us in our Christian walks).

My point is only that I think we end up with notions of God that are too small if we forget that we're really talking about an Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness. It's very useful, I find, to sometimes pray to and commune with this Divine Mystery.
True.
 

O'Darby

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I can't agree with this largely because it is confusing. Jesus is indeed the 2nd Person of the Trinity, although ranking him is not the thing I'm focused upon. It is the fact Jesus is Deity, and as such must be part of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. We cannot separate Jesus, the man, from the Son of God, who is also a man.
I'll just quickly address this since I'm pressed for time and because I received a PM suggesting I might be close to the edge of the "no discussion of the Trinity" rule - a "rule" that seems to be routinely honored in the breach. :) I thought my post was pretty solidly Trinitarian, as I intended it to be. Even in Trinitarian terms, was Jesus the fullness of the Second Person of the Trinity? Was 1/3 of the Trinity sitting in Mary's womb and spending 30 years in her household as a carpenter? Was there some sort of vacancy in heaven? Was Jesus omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent? (We are told he "limited" Himself in this regard - how did THAT work?) If God is Spirit, how is 1/3 of the Trinity now in heaven as a resurrected body that could be touched and ate fish while on earth? What Ascended into heaven - was Jesus transformed back into pure spirit 1000 feet up? As others have suggested on other threads, I think it makes more sense to say that the Second Person of the Trinity was "in" Jesus rather than that Jesus WAS the Second Person of the Trinity in His fullness.

Are you of the view that the Trinity was a Father-Son-Spirit triad before the Incarnation? I was somewhat surprised to hear as staunch a Trinitarian as William Lane Craig suggest, in his comprehensive "Defenders" series on the Trinity, that there was no such triad. He suggested that the member of the Trinity whom we (and Jesus) call Father could have chosen to incarnate as the Son - i.e., Father-Son reflects a post-Incarnation relationship.

Enough about the Trinity. I accept it as expressing a human understanding of the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.
 
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APAK

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I'll just quickly address this since I'm pressed for time and because I received a PM suggesting I might be close to the edge of the "no discussion of the Trinity" rule - a "rule" that seems to be routinely honored in the breach. :) I thought my post was pretty solidly Trinitarian, as I intended it to be. Even in Trinitarian terms, was Jesus the fullness of the Second Person of the Trinity? Was 1/3 of the Trinity sitting in Mary's womb and spending 30 years in her household as a carpenter? Was there some sort of vacancy in heaven? Was Jesus omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent? (We are told he "limited" Himself in this regard - how did THAT work?) If God is Spirit, how is 1/3 of the Trinity now in heaven as a resurrected body that could be touched and ate fish while on earth? What Ascended into heaven - was Jesus transformed back into pure spirit 1000 feet up? As others have suggested on other threads, I think it makes more sense to say that the Second Person of the Trinity was "in" Jesus rather than that Jesus WAS the Second Person of the Trinity in His fullness.

Are you of the view that the Trinity was a Father-Son-Spirit triad before the Incarnation? I was somewhat surprised to hear as staunch a Trinitarian as William Lane Craig suggest, in his comprehensive "Defenders" series on the Trinity, that there was no such triad. He suggested that the member of the Trinity whom we (and Jesus) call Father could have chosen to incarnate as the Son - i.e., Father-Son reflects a post-Incarnation relationship.

Enough about the Trinity. I accept it as expressing a human understanding of the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.
You did catch my eye with your posts. Well done as you traversed a fine line here, thus far, especially with the indigenous crown royalists. I do expect however, after the initial charm of your words rub off with some, when they realize what you are actually saying, they will retaliate as true loyalists do, and see you as a rebel, a true separatist that is not one of them.
 
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Randy Kluth

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I'll just quickly address this since I'm pressed for time and because I received a PM suggesting I might be close to the edge of the "no discussion of the Trinity" rule - a "rule" that seems to be routinely honored in the breach. :) I thought my post was pretty solidly Trinitarian, as I intended it to be.
I had no thought to refer you to mod censorship, since I *never* do that. I want people to express what they honestly feel, though I have to abide by the "rules" also. My thought was not that you're anti-Trinitarian, but that your *language* can be perceived as such.
Even in Trinitarian terms, was Jesus the fullness of the Second Person of the Trinity?
It depends on how you define the "2nd Person of the Trinity?" If that's who Jesus is, then yes he's the fulness of who he is!
Was 1/3 of the Trinity sitting in Mary's womb and spending 30 years in her household as a carpenter?
Yes, Jesus was completely divine as he was in Mary's womb, etc. He was not the Father in the sense of the Trinity. But he was completely divine as that is defined with respect to its revelation in the Son.

Deity does not have to be revealed as the Father if it is to be revealed in a more finite way. When I use a symbol to express a truth much larger, the symbol is in reality the larger truth condensed so that it can be properly comprehended in a more concise, limited way.
Was there some sort of vacancy in heaven?
The Trinity is not expressed geographically, but rather in terms of 3 divine Persons. When we speak of Deity, we speak of infinite values, which are not limited by geographical location, as you yourself had been arguing.

But the revelations of the infinite God can express that infinite Deity in a more limited, finite way. Hence, there are 3 Persons that reveal God in 3 distinct finite ways so that finite men can understand Him. The Father reveals God as the infinite source of His revelations. The Son reveals God in the form of a man. The Spirit reveals God's presence within finite space, in defined locations.
Was Jesus omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent?
The 2nd Person of the Trinity is defined as the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God confined, by the Word of God, within the restraints of his human revelation. This did not confine Deity, but only His particular *revelation* in the form of Jesus.
Are you of the view that the Trinity was a Father-Son-Spirit triad before the Incarnation?
I believe the Son existed as a Person before his humanity, but not, of course, in the form of a human person. The distinction between God and His Word is a distinction between God as the source of His revelations and those revelations themselves.

God's Word can produce things that aren't God as well as things that are God. God can create the universe, angels, and men. But He can also reveal His own Person in the form of theophanies and Jesus.

Let's just say that God's Word from eternity contained the potentiality of revealing the Person of God in the form of Jesus. As such, the Word of God was distinct from God as its source from eternity.

This is an interesting subject, and I'm happy to discuss it as long as we don't cross lines with the mods. I've been on the edge several times in different forums. I err on the side of free speech, but respect the need to avoid reckless distractions.
 
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O'Darby

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You did catch my eye with your posts. Well done as you traversed a fine line here, thus far, especially with the indigenous crown royalists. I do expect however, after the initial charm of your words rub off with some, when they realize what you are actually saying, they will retaliate as true loyalists do, and see you as a rebel, a true separatist that is not one of them.
I'm a veteran of enough forums that I should know that it's a rare thread that isn't derailed by the fifth post! :) I was hoping - hope does spring eternal, you know - that people might actually respond to the general thrust of what I'm saying. I really hadn't anticipated - silly me, I guess - a Trinitarian tangent. As I've said elsewhere, I "accept" the Trinity as a mainstream, well-established Christian doctrine. But since the term Trinity isn't even in the Bible and the doctrine evolved over centuries, surely anyone should agree that this is a human way of talking and thinking about what I have called the Eternal, Transcendent, Wholly Other Spirit who is God in His fullness.
 
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O'Darby

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Greetings, all - I initiated a discussion with @Angelina, who steered me to a "no discussion of the Trinity" rule that is much stricter and more-black-and-white than the one to which I had originally been referred. I can see now that several of my posts - and MANY others by other participants - violated this rule. I think I would be hesitant even to mention the Trinity in another post. So if there is any further discussion of my post, let's steer clear of The Forbidden Doctrine and focus on my real point about not losing sight of the Great Mystery that is God.
 
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O'Darby

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As I've given further thought to matters, I've decided to move on. This seems to be a well-meaning and gently moderated forum in comparison to most. Nevertheless, I find an internet forum Statement of Faith highly incongruous, particularly when so many participants and such large swaths of Christendom don't agree with it. So who is the "we" this SOF represents? The site owners and administrators, presumably, but why do I really care what they believe any more than they care what I believe? Am I joining a church here? If so, sorry but I don't want to join an internet church.

Then I find discussions of the T doctrine are absolutely off limits even one is a strong believer in it. One of the most mysterious, misunderstood, controversial doctrines in Christianity - even among those who insist they are strong believers in it - is simply off-limits because it causes too many headaches. But wait, just in my short time here I have seen Catholics called Satanic, people who are clearly believers told they don't know the Lord (and worse), and pretty much all the standard BS that predominates at most Christian forums. Were I so inclined, I think could have reported at least 25% of all posts as being pretty clearly in violation of one rule or another. People whose sole mission seems to be to tell other people why they aren't Christians, often in very snide terms, seem to be tolerated.

Honestly, I have yet to see any Christian internet forum where a calm, rational, non-Christian wouldn't take a peek say "Why would anyone want to be part of THAT religion?" Even as a Christian, at least of sorts, I find myself asking this question.

Anyway, I have to ask myself: What do I gain by contributing here? Is it worth considerable amounts of my time? Am I contributing or accomplishing anything? Do I find it more depressing and frustrating than edifying and educational? I enjoy writing and thinking out loud, but I can do that on my own.

Having asked those things, I'm going to move on. Adios and blessings to all, even the Bibliolators! :laughing:
 
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