The Mystical Approach to Theology (#2)

This is the second post in a series. Click here for part 1.


We have been discussing the Mystical Approach to Theology. We have presented that the infiniteness of God’s nature makes it impossible for us to comprehend Him. In fact, we have asserted, that the only thing we can truly affirm about God is what cannot be said about Him. We can say that God is not like anything that we can know intellectually, and that all of our attempts to reduce Him to a formula inevitably create mental images; perhaps mental idol at times. What ever we might say about God is already less than what God is. God then is a mystery that cannot be comprehended, but God is capable of being known and experienced.

God does not exist. (I will give you a minute to recover from the shock.) John Scotus Eriugena, a ninth century Irish theologian says: “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything [i.e. “not any created thing”]. Literally God is not, because He transcends being” Eriugena is not espousing Atheism, but rather poking at the fact that even our basic concept of being and existence fail to describe God in His essential nature. God “is not anything” because He eludes such categories. God is neither existing nor non-existing. His essence and nature transcend these ideas. If we are pushing the boundary of rationality and exhausting our comprehension, then that is the whole point. Mystical Theology intends to lead us to just such a place of intellectual surrender.

At this point you might be ready to raise a bit of a protest. Isn’t God suppose to be simple, easy to understand? Shouldn’t we be able to reduce God to a formula, something easy to remember and conducive to Sunday school? Think with me for a moment. Scientists are still at a loss for describing what our consciousness is. (For a good discussion see: How Do You Explain Consciousness by David Chalmers.) Quantum physics is enough to make brilliant minds scratch their heads. Then there is energy, gravity, space and time. What is light exactly? Take the time and research each of these concepts (if you are a nerd like myself), what you will discover is that while science can say some things about them, it cannot fully describe what they are. Further attempts to describe them become very technical and complex. So if we cannot even describe some of the basic components of our existence, how arrogant is it to suggest that we have God down to a mathematical equation?

I think the concern here may be that if we approach the nature of God as a Mystery, then would we not be making God unknowable? You might have noticed a phrase that I have repeated several times so far – it is essentially that God is incomprehensible, but He can be known. I do not need to see the entirety of the ocean in order to swim in it. Another way to say it is that God is untouchable through rationality, but is accessible through spirituality. God can be experienced, and this after all is the heart of theology. The monk and theologian Evagrius of Pontus says “The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.” If our theological endeavors do not bring us to prayer, if they are not in fact a form of prayer, then perhaps we are not doing it right.

Click here for the next post.

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