Proper Theology Proper (2) – the greatest discovery

Of all the needs we have on this planet, the greatest is for our lives to be filled with the reality of God. The idea of God or notions about him are not enough. In the first post of this series on Theology Proper we considered the need for God in all things. The “why” of the Doctrine of God is God himself.

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This answer is short, but pure, more pure than anything. But this “why” is not confined to the Doctrine of God. The “why” that is God in Theology Proper is the “why” of all theologies and the “why” of every other why in every other area of knowledge. We need God and the studied interest in him more than we need air or food. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (Job 23:12). This the ancient saint Job said from the dry well of his angst. Though the husk of what he said was rotted with his self-righteous anger, the kernel is pure.

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That kernel – the longing to hear from God more than anyone else – is matched to what fills the longing. The longing matches the filling. The filling compels the longing. We long for God because he is the only One who can fill that particular longing. In fact, we can say that the organ of longing within us, though it may long for other things, is designed and given to us ultimately to long for God. You long for chocolate or steak so that you may exercise on a small scale the longing for God which is on a grand scale.

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In a future post we will explore this longing in more detail. The desire for God is a topic that we find mostly in devotional or pastoral literature of Christianity. It will be worth our efforts to see how Classical Theism, scripturally-informed, is high octane, slow burn perfect fuel for the greatest longing. Other attempts to bring the Christian church into the greatest longing have been tried in Open Theism, in various process or dialectic theologies and in Christian mysticism. These attempts fall short because they explain who God is as if he is a divine Übermensch. Or as in Christian mysticism, the search for God turns inward as a type of hyper-introspection. Either kind of spirituality results in ways of finding God by mostly finding ourselves.

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I mention these errors briefly now because it presents us a good reason to give focused attention to the greatest discovery. What is the greatest discovery? Before I answer that, know this. The greatest longing finds its home in the greatest discovery.

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This discovery rarely comes upon us like a leisurely sunrise. In fact, I have yet to hear anyone describe their experience with the greatest discovery as anything less than one of shock ‘n awe or no less than a profound thought seizing them, a pack of tigers on prey.

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I was standing next to a ping pong table in a mountain lodge when it dropped on me. One moment I was casually eating a chocolate muffin, sipping coffee, talking with friends and then the next moment the tiger pounced. I was in the grip of the greatest discovery. It would not let go. Yet, from that moment on I sensed not confinement, but being set free.

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One of my friends near the ping pong table was my pastor. He was also a theologian with a PhD. in New Testament. Additionally, he had an interest in astronomy. His interest in astronomy was not a passing one. He did planetarium presentations and gave lectures on the stars and their constellations. So in the course of conversation I mentioned to him I had been reading about the size of the universe. It is interesting how the scientists across the centuries kept adjusting what they estimated the size of universe to be. I was curious what he thought.

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He gave me a short answer about its size as our friends listened. Then, he said something that as far as I was concerned had nothing to do with the question I had asked. Frankly, the idea of it had never entered my thoughts.

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He said,

…and the philosophers believed that although God is present everywhere, the universe dwells inside of God.

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I stared. I stared. All I could do was finish my muffin and coffee in silence. I listened while others added to the conversation, but I wasn’t really listening. My mouth and for that matter my mind and heart had just been taken.

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“The universe dwells inside of God.” Really? This cannot be, I thought. But then, thoughts continuing, if the universe can be measured – regardless of its supposed size – it is finite. If God is wholly in the universe which has not outside to it, then God is finite too. This cannot be, I thought.

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Then an objection: Who cares what the philosophers believed. They arrived at their ideas independently from divine revelation, I thought. What business have we who are interested in theology making common cause with philosophy?

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Pascal. I was reminded of Pascal. My father used to talk about things Pascal said about God. My father used to talk with admiration for Pascal. My protest against the philosophers fell to the ground. In Pascal was a philosopher who was also a theologian or at least a philosopher who loved theology. Many of the older philosophers were theologians to some degree. They did not dismiss God or the idea of God as so many philosophers do now.

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The profoundest thoughts are often the simplest. The simplest philosophical thought of all, one of the most profound, entered my taken space: In the beginning God… (Genesis 1:1). Before God made the universe there was no universe, just God. Why hadn’t I seriously considered that before?

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The finite is much smaller than I realize, I said in the quietness of my soul. If the universe is 14 billion light years to its edges from here, then that immensity is but a pin prick within the immense infinity that is God. And if I with warm muffins and steaming java in hand linger in this pin prick for a few decades or more, then what am I?

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The rising tide of God’s infinity swept across the eroding shores of my self-importance. Like Job of old, I had not much else to say in defense of my significance.

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Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth.

(Job 40:4 nasb)

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The greatest discovery is that the finite no matter how grand it appears, no matter how large it be, its measure is still next to nothingness compared to the infinity that is Yahweh God. Calvin often referred to the greatest discovery with this motto: finitum non capax infiniti, the finite cannot contain (or comprehend) the infinite.

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The greatest discovery comes to us when we are finally gripped by the infinite immensity of God. With whom, then, will you compare God? (Isaiah 40:18). He is incomprehensible and incomparable. In his eternality, in his absolute being, in his perfections, in his unique unparalleled triune beauty, in his divine otherness, in his transcendence he is incomprehensible and incomparable. There is much we should study in his Word about his infinite majesty and many more millions of words we can read on this, but at some point it still leaves me speechless. In those hours my praise of him lives in the silence of awe.

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I close this post on the greatest discovery with a few more words from Pascal:

Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in its lofty and full majesty, and let him avert his view from the lowly objects around him.  Let him behold that brilliant light set like an eternal lamp to illuminate the universe.  Let the earth seem to him like a point in comparison with the vast orbit described by that star.

And let him be amazed that this vast orbit is itself but a very small point in comparison with the one described by that star.  And let him be amazed that this vast orbit is itself but a very small point in comparison with the one described by the stars rolling around the firmament.

But if our gaze stops here, let our imagination pass beyond.  It will sooner tire of conceiving an imperceptible trace in the amplitude of nature.  No idea approaches it.  However much we may inflate our conceptions beyond these imaginary spaces, we give birth only to atoms with respect to the reality of things.  It is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.

In the end, the greatest perceptible sign of God’s omnipotence is that our imagination loses itself in this thought.

(translation, Roger Ariew, pp 58-59)

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image credit: view of Mount Everest

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