Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Never-Ending Task Of Theology

"The price of God's purity is the loss of His living reality. For the living God can never be subsumed under a pure concept. What makes Him a living God in the mind of a believer is precisely what involves Him in some part of the human world, what makes it possible for man to see Him face to face in a great religious symbol. Reformulated in rational terms, all this vanishes. To preserve the purity of the concept of God without loss of His living reality - that is the never-ending task of theology."

- Gershom Scholem, "On The Kabbalah & Its Symbolism"

One of the pivotal points of Gnostic theology is that God is indescribable, that his true essence cannot be summed up in words (in much the same way that Gnosis itself cannot). It has been the principle of Gnostics therefore (and, indeed, Kabbalists and other members of the broader "Gnostic" communion of mysticism) to limit descriptions of God to negative terms: indescribable, infinite, ineffable, illimitable, ad infinatum. The True God is, while very definitely present here in our everyday lives, far beyond the realm of our limited conceptions, so much so that we can only truly describe what God is not (i.e. finite, "good", etc.).

But this makes for a somewhat "distant" God. If God cannot be described, if all our attempts at such description are doomed to failure from the outset, and if God can only be conceived in this abstract "pure" manner (which many would argue is still a limited conception of God), then doesn't that make God, to the human mind, an alien force? If God cannot be expressed in a human way, how can the human hope to know God, feel his presence, or come to walk a path laid out by him? If God is "maths" and not "mythology", then doesn't it make God a bit clinical, a bit impersonal, a bit too "other" to really mesh with how we, as humans, interact the world?

The answer is, of course, yes, and a very valid yes. Personal interactions with God are, by their very nature, a limited experience, and we cannot use them as a basis for describing God in his totality of being. But what we can do is use our mythology, our anthropomorphisms of God, to help us recognise God as he is "here" in order that we might know more fully what he is like "there", in that abstract unmanifest realm. We cannot describe Gnosis accurately, but we can intimate what Gnosis is, and help inspire Gnosis in others (by stimulating their inner spark), by means of mythology and poetry, and likewise we can intimate what God is, and help inspire contact with him (by, again, stimulating that inner divine spark), in those whom we communicate with. So long as we recognise that the words are only directions to God and not what God actually "is", they become invaluable tools in our search for divinity.

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