Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Humility in Knowing God

When it comes to knowing God, there is a difference between epistemological humility and 'apophatic humility'.

This is an old quote I had lying around.
Tony Jones says this:

"Looking at it from the side of God in the God-human relationship is far more profound. "Naked Truth," is the phrase of Pseudo-Dionysius--this is GOd who is ultimately "unutterable," "unknowable," "invisible," "incomprehensible." How does one speak with any confidence of this God, much less pray with any confidence.

Orthodoxy as event acknowledges apophatic humility in the face of this God; it acknowledges that all of our theology--our logos about this theos--inevitably falls far short of what Dionysius call the "ONE who is beyond all." It prays with Anselm, "Lord, you are not merely that than which a greater cannot be thought; you are something greater than can be thought." " qtd from "Whence Hermeneutical Authority" p.21.

Apophatic humility says I cannot know and it is a mystery. It is at best a subset of epistemological humility. At worse, it is wholly other and not humble at all. I would favor the latter just slightly.

I agree that the finite cannot contain the infinite. That is true in how we think of the incarnation and how we think about how humans "know God". That would be epistemological humility. Furthermore, always calling our knowledge into check and avoiding being puffed up are other forms of epistemological humility.

But, and this is key, if God has revealed Himself and if God has spoken (and of course it is always God who condescends when he does this--he lisps baby talk, to borrow from Calvin), then it is decidedly not humble to plug your ears and say "God is so incomprehensible I can't know him". That may be the apophatic way but it is certainly not humble. Indeed it is an act of pure hubris to deny the right of the speaker and say "there is no voice" while we stair into his face.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent, especially the last paragraph.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...