Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Monday, May 19, 2008

Via Negativa

Negative theology - also known as the Via Negativa (Latin for "Negative Way") and Apophatic theology - is a theology that attempts to describe God by negation, to speak of God only in terms of what may not be said about God.
In brief, the attempt is to gain and express knowledge of God by describing what God is not (
apophasis), rather than by describing what God is. The apophatic tradition is often, though not always, allied with the approach of mysticism, which focuses on a spontaneous or cultivated individual experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception, an experience often unmediated by the structures of traditional organized religion or learned thought and behavior.

In negative theology, it is accepted that the Divine is ineffable,(indescribable) an abstract experience that can only be recognized - that is, human beings cannot describe the essence of God; God in His essence is beyond the limits of what human beings can understand; He is transcendent in essence (ousia) and further knowledge must be sought in a direct experience of God or His indestructible energies through theoria (vision of God); and therefore all descriptions if attempted will be ultimately false and conceptualization should be avoided:
existence nor nonexistence as we understand it applies to God, i.e., God is beyond existing or not existing. (One cannot say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; nor can we say that God is nonexistent.)
**God is
divinely simple. (One should not claim that God is one, ['One' (Greek: To Hen), the ineffable God] or three, or any type of being. All that can be said is, whatever God is, divinity is not multiple independent beings.)
***God is not ignorant. (One should not say that God is wise since that word arrogantly implies we know what "wisdom" means on a divine scale, whereas we only know what wisdom means to man.)
****Likewise, God is not
evil. (To say that God can be described by the word 'good' limits God to what good means to human beings.) Christians believe God is indeed good, but that His goodness is above and beyond our understanding of goodness and is thus only partially comprehensible to us.
*****God is not a
creation (but beyond this we do not know how God exists).The Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century said that they believed in God, but they did not believe that God exists in the same sense that everything else exists. That is to say, everything else that exists was created, but the Creator transcends even existence. The essence of God is completely unknowable; mankind can only know God through His energies.
******God is not conceptually definable in terms of
space and location.
*******God is not conceptually confinable to assumptions based on
Even though the via negativa essentially rejects theological understanding as a path to God, some have sought to make it into an intellectual exercise, by describing God only in terms of what God is not. One problem noted with this approach, is that there seems to be no fixed basis on deciding what God is not. He is descriptively indeterminate in any theological or anthropomorphic term whether positive (cataphatic) or (apophatic) negative. Tertullian says, “That which is infinite is known only to itself. This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions—our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.” Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Homilies says: "For we explain not what God is but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge."

What we believe to be our epistemic (knowledgeable or cognitive) realities, horizons, vistas and theology are thwarted by the Black Swans that show-up in our lives. God has an intent and purpose in interjecting into life these disruptive appearances of Black Swans. As the story of life unfolds there is an opportunity for the narrative to become retrospectively heroic. In this retrospective view our understanding and knowledge of God is expanded and expanded to such a degree that we feel we can safely and assuredly predict and anticipate accurately God's motivations and actions. This becomes an issue of prideful conjecture and our desire to see our history as a predetermined, predestined outcome carefully constructed and managed by a benevolent God. This positive theology seeks to restore order, purpose and predictability into the randomness of life. This view seeks to glorify a benevolent God and to remove from the equation the aspects of justice, judgement and righteousness. In God's economy the Black Swans are the unanticipated interruptions or prophetic anomalies that disrupt and become problematic in ascertaining their purpose. These events become issues without the concrete answers to the questions that are raised by the occurrence. Our culture and society has become, if not knowledgeable at least aware of the inability of the Church and by that I mean Christians to answer the questions raised by a theology which fails to deal concisely and honestly with the ambiguity of God and the existence of Black Swans. It becomes a secondary issue in the matter of trust, in that Christians either refuse to acknowledge their ignorance or manufacture tactfully crafted narrative fallacies removing the friction from the problematic existence of the Black Swan.

So where does this leave us? How do we do theology in a faith created by a Black Swan? How are we to peer into life and the future knowing that God has, and can, act in highly disruptive and surprising ways?

We can confess that as Christians we have erred in our presentation of the knowledge we have of God; we can confess that we know O! so little of the workings of God; we can express our belief in a God of surprise and Black Swan activity; we can affirm our belief that there is no fear in perfect love; we can express our devotion to a God who expresses love even through, and with more poignancy and penetrating intent via Black Swan events; we can affirm our belief that the radical freedom and wildness of God's heart is recognized, accepted, honoured and part of His revelation of Himself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


The question was asked, What is it that I can possibly control?

The answer was given, my attitude.

A second answer given was driving my car.

One of Newton's Laws is, 'an object set in motion remains in motion until met by an equal or greater opposing force'. There is a subsequent reaction. A friend of mine has mentioned on numerous occasions that when he has hit his finger with a hammer, his first reaction is not 'Praise God'. It should be obvious, but may bear mentioning, that it was not his intent to smack his finger with the hammer. It was an uncontrollable circumstance of an otherwise intended action.

It follows that the 'I cans' that I will do, or wish to do, have a consequence which is still indeterminate from the intent of the original action. It is in this vane of thought that I believe the speaker was leading. We have marginal control of our lives, and even in the area of attitude that control remains as a result of circumstance and situation determined by the actions of others, reacting to others etc., etc.

We at some point in life come to the realization that life is comprised of 95% of things that happen to us and our reaction and only 5% of those things that we do by determined action. It really narrows and changes the focus. The philosophical bent of the conversation as it turned was destructive in the intent of the speaker's point, that being, as leaders we can only act within the parameters of God-given authority and never at odds to His sovereign power in which God either limits or allows the occurrences of the bad or the blessing and these limitations and allowances are determined by Him.

What we as people, and especially people of God, expect, is that the 'good' we would achieve is a mandated right or perogative because we are doing the service of the King. There lies in our thought no expectation of the black swans. The black swans are the exceptions in life, those occurrences of the unanticipated that blow away all predetermined expectations of result. These are the Albinos that show up as a result of the genetic glitches that seldom and randomly appear. These events refute the logic of inductive reasoning, the assumption that since every swan I have ever seen is white, then all swans must be white.
A definition of a black Swan is this :
First, it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
Second, it carries an extreme impact, it destroys a pattern of formed logic which provides security for prediction, expectation, faith and hope.
Third, in spite of its unanticipated status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable. We tend to downplay the unanswerable aspects of expectation and faith and hope with arguments which justify, by carefully crafted explanation, the answer to the question, Why I did not receive this promise, this healing. this ______
Black Swans create a disjoint between what we know and what we think we know. Black Swans come from beyond our epistemic horizons.
They attack at our knowledge base as it relates to our perception of the cognitive reality in which we live. This disjoint is fueled not by the distortions (i.e. black swans) but by the reasoning that makes us overconfident in our pronouncements and expectations about the future, about life, about faith, about...
There are three important features highlighted:
There is an illusion of understanding, everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize;
There is a retrospective distortion, we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and
There is an overvaluation of factual information and the handicap created by authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories and metaphors (Pavlov's Bell scenarios)..." This becomes even more evident when we attempt to put God into the box of determined query and response, 'I believe ... therefore..."

Life as we live it may only 'make sense' after the fact, we may realize only after the fact 'what God is up to'... maybe then we will understand praise and gratitude, possibly pain and suffering... look at the after effects of some of the most poignant, painful, revelatory and historical events in the Bible.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Flourishing means, to thrive, to grow, to prosper, to have ability to exert great influence to initiate change. Flourishing quite commonly is tied to numerical quantity as its barometer of health and well-being and in this aspect numbers are used in justification of process, procedure, vision, value and worth. Flourishing from personal perspectives is as diverse as the people who envision what health, wealth and happiness means, both individually and corporately. Flourishing is a desired outcome of all endeavours, it is linked to success, achievement, desire, capability, blessing,... but what if,...if viewed as the only end to which a man is called, it can become the demon of existence, disabling the ability to deal with reality, viewing consequence as failure, viewing circumstance as inability, viewing capability as loss of blessing, viewing every aspect of life as lost opportunity, failing to value the joy of the journey as it influences and changes the person, failing to equate the travel as the greater part of reaching a destination. The sum of life's efforts viewed in the rear-view mirror may not indicate the true value of life. It is like the warning on the passenger side mirror of your car, "objects in the mirror may appear larger than they really are". It is similar in intent to the urging of Jesus, when He says, 'no man having placed his hand on the plow, looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven." We can despair for the fruit of this life, the flourishing of our efforts, if we rely on the backward glance. The focus of life is in the forward progress as relating to each of us who tread this sod, and in this we must remember what is said in, 1 Peter 4:17, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?", judgement must first begin in the House of God, with each of us as individuals, accountable for our own "working out of our salvation with fear and trembling".

Psalm 92:12-13, "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.

It hints at the question of the 'good' that should occur, the blessing above all else when life deals the hard blows. It also brings into question the 'good' that we would do and our understanding of the seemingly fruitlessness of effort expended without successful consequence.

G. K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy about five steps in his journey as a young man:
"One, I felt it in my bones; first that this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanation I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false.
"Second, I came to feel as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have someone to mean it.
"Third, I thought this purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as dragons.
"Fourth, the proper form of thanks to it is some form of humility and restraint. We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.
"And last, and strangest of all, there came into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin. Man had saved his good as Crusoe had saved his goods. He had saved them from a wreck, and all this I felt, and my age gave me no encouragement to feel it.
"And all this time I had not even thought of Christian theology."

We are left without explanation by God, we do not receive answers to our questionings, life cannot be held accountable for the consequences, life has nothing to resolve with itself or anyone, it cannot reply nor does it provide solutions to our complaint. Life and God require that the expression of our existence be found in the doing of 'good' and that ultimate obligation is the demand on our lives which is indispensable in the fulfillment of almost any mandate of religious, ethical or moral condition. It is noble, selfless, timeless,...

(ethical study of morals, duties and rights with an approach that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, that is not reducible to the goodness or badness of the consequences of those actions)
...ideas help define the "good" ...

e.g., Kant's categorical imperative ("Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." in essence it implies that all human beings occupy a special place in creation and that morality can be summed up in one, ultimate commandment of reason, or imperative, from which all duties and obligations derive. He defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action (or inaction) to be necessary. A hypothetical imperative would compel action in a given circumstance: If I wish to satisfy my thirst, then I must drink something. A categorical imperative would denote an absolute, unconditional requirement that exerts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself.

e.g.,Rawls' veil of ignorance, which asserts that all citizens are entitled to an equitable share of primary social goods which include basic rights as well as economic and social advantages and that all citizens would adopt the maximum rule as their principle for evaluating the choices before them. Borrowed from game theory, maximum stands for maximizing the minimum, i.e. making the choice that produces the highest payoff for the least advantaged position. Thus, maximum presents a formulation for the promotion of social equality.

e.g.,Jesus' Golden Rule, the ethic of reciprocity or The Golden Rule is a fundamental moral value which simply means "treat others as you would like to be treated." It is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights. Ethical teaching interprets the Golden Rule as mutual respect for one's neighbour.. A key element of the golden rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group with consideration. The golden rule, with roots in a wide range of world cultures, is well suited to be a standard to which different cultures could appeal in resolving conflicts.

... and the "ugly"...
(i.e., virtue ethics; which in summary is the belief that certain habits and behaviours will allow a person to achieve that good life and characterizes the well-lived life, irrespective of the emotional state of the person experiencing it. Flourishing or happiness is that state achieved by the person who lives the proper human life, an outcome which can be reached by practising the virtues. A virtue is a habit or quality that allows the bearer to succeed at his purpose. Flourishing and happiness are the proper and expected goal of living the good life and are linked inextricably, meaning that purpose and goals are tied to flourishing, happiness and blessing.)
...and help us to think about how we need to shape our minds to follow through with the good.

As with any thought, there must be consideration for the reality of how the ideal will be played out, what the fleshing out is going to require for the effective application of the principle. This is where the 'ugly' comes and lays its hands upon the emotional and spiritual aspects of our life, life is messy, life is turns in the road, life is crashing into trees, life has debris and cast-offs, life is an obscure existence lived in the shadow of saints and martyrs, life is a dark path illuminated by a flashlight, life is the trail negotiated by candlelight, life is not fair and in this we can become anesthetized and paralyzed.

Romans 8:28..."and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Attempts to understand this verse in light of the reality of the life we live and see lived in those around us, when 'ugly' and 'pain' is personified in person and experienced in circumstance, expose the contradiction and hypocrisy of the 'prosperity gospel', refuting the opportunity to theologize this verse to convict, condemn and constrain people to view their existence in light of blessing, flourishing and happiness. There is opportunity to distort 'good' to mean freedom from 'present suffering' and refuse to allow for the 'continuing experience of' and 'it came to pass'. There is in this verse the call of God to the virtuous life characterized by the pursuit of the righteousness of God, holiness, the empowering of the Holy Spirit to live a devout life and the recognition that all these things and many more are a result of God exercising His sovereign will in the invitation. Yet, in this invitation, there is no promise that in life we will not have to deal with failure, weakness, struggles, hardship, torment, pressure, tension or the enslaving realities of sin, fear, death and pain.

The 'good' that we would do is not always the way of success, the 'good that we would do is often found in the failure, in the substance of our faith, in the reality that without God all is vanity, frailty and fluff. The 'good' that is achieved is in the continually 'showing up'. The 'good' is modeled in the participation, 'regardless of'.
The 'good' is a result of the patience shown in 'waiting for'. The 'good' is found in the discussion, in the 'listening to'. The 'good' is in not requiting opposition with 'dusting off'. The 'good' is realized in letting go and 'letting God'. The 'good' is manifested in the 'patience of the saints', not in seeking the 'destruction of'. 2 Peter 3:9,"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

The good that we would do is tied to the good we would receive, this fails as good theology. The promise of God is tied to a hope, it will be realized by faith in a future event, and is evidenced currently by love for God and man. 2 Corinthians 5:7, " I have to live my life in faith, without seeing Him." What 'good' have I done? What 'good' has been achieved by me that is worthy of the salvation given by Jesus?

Grace tills the soil, and sows the seeds,
Provides the sun and rain;
Till from the tender blade proceeds
The ripen'd harvest grain.
'Twas grace that call'd our souls at first;
By grace thus far we're come;
And grace will help us through the worst,
And lead us safely home.
Lord, when this changing life is past,
If we may see thy face,
How shall we praise and love at last,
And sing the reign of grace! (Psal. 115:1)
Yet let us aim, while here below,
Thy mercy to display;
And own, at least, the debt we owe,
Although we cannot pay.