A God for our Cosmic Time and Space
In the light of our greater knowledge of the Cosmos I consider here first two aspects of God, as both beyond all our knowledge and conceptions, and yet able to be known in events and substance in the world.
God cannot just be invoked to fill gaps in our knowledge.
Rational enquiry can be a devotional exercise.
The different world we know
The world we know is vastly different from the ancient world of the bible with its simple view of God enthroned above the vault of the heavens in which God has set the lights of the sky that revolve above our heads. It is also very different to many of the similar conceptions that formed Western Christian theology in the Middle Ages, particularly from Augustinian and Thomist (Thomas Aquinas) Catholic tradition and Reformed theology of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We have presented to us today 13.75 billion years of Cosmic development and 4.6 billion years of earth history and evolution of life that has faced extinction of nearly all its life forms on a number of occasions, with new forms of life taking their place. We know the earth is nowhere near the centre of the known universe and it just one small planet orbiting one very ordinary star, on the edge of one galaxy out of millions.
A God for the new Cosmic View
For such a new cosmic view we need a truly cosmic view of God. Even before the rise of modern science without the long cosmic and evolutionary timescale there has always been the mystery of God who can be responsible for the world, knowing all and being in some way in control of its destiny. The long cosmic time both increases the mystery and the questions and defies easy man-made conceptions and descriptions of what God may be or what God is truly like. The ancient Judeo – Christian tradition expressed first in the scriptures and developed in culture and the history of the church has emphasised that God is indescribable and not to attempt to make images. The commandments of Moses and later prophetic tradition said not to attempt to make images of God based upon the natural world or idolise parts of creation as God or deities like other cultures did.
But we feel that we do need to describe and define the nature of God as to what kind of God we worship. Christian theology has at various times attempted to define the nature of God in various ways including God as Trinity; a unity of three “persons” of divine nature. This has foundations in specific scriptures and philosophy and attempted to make sense of people’s experience that was the basis of those scriptures. We have a need to make use of familiar things in the world to try and make sense of the unseen, unknown and unfathomable. So we may need to define God through imperfect images that may describe some aspects of the divine nature that fit specific things we have come to know about the world and through revelation in recorded experience.
Even in the older theological traditions there could never to be absolute and clear description of God. There was in Eastern Christian traditions the Apophatic way that described what God was not rather than being clear about what God is, because God cannot be known completely by the senses or the rational mind. In this view God can only be approached mystically in faith and longing relationship that is felt rather than rational. Any image or description that is used can never be adhered to with too much literacy for it always falls down by missing something or over-emphasising something at the cost of others. If this has been true of the past in traditional theologies and faith it must be even more important in the face of modern science world view.
When attempting to define and describe God in philosophical terms God has often been described as having the property of Transcendence, because God is beyond all that we are cable of knowing or imagining in any culture or context. Transcendence affirms that God’s nature and power is wholly independent of (and removed from) the material universe and not governed by it. There is a separateness between God and the world that includes the impossibility of complete understanding, as God is beyond our thought processes. As I have delved into the writings of Duns Scotus and Bonaventure I found this tension in their writings on revelation and human knowledge of God. With the greater context of vast cosmic space-time that view of transcendence has even greater in scope and meaning.
God who is Immanent
Alongside the revelation of Transcendence the biblical and traditional faith of the church is that the transcendent nature of God is balanced with Immanence; a God who is involved with the world and comes to be manifest in the material realm and circumstances of people’s lives. In the scriptures God interacts with the world and enters into its workings and people’s lives. The biblical traditions of God are about interaction with creation, with individuals and whole nations.
By faith the Immanence of God in Christian faith is known even more strongly and directly in the supreme act of involvement of the Word through the physical life of Jesus of Nazareth, made known as the Incarnation of part of God revealed as the Son, and also made known from the indwelling of the Spirit in the lives of those in communion with the divine and that purpose. The Transcendent God can be only be known through God’s own self-disclosure, through God making something known to us in special ways within our world, and in the life and experiences of others. If it were it not for God’s own Self-revelation we would have limited understanding of God who is beyond us. It is the testimony of the church that God has been revealed in the world in individuals and circumstances, recorded in the faith that is preserved in the scriptures, in both the lives of the Israelites in the Old Testament and in the supreme manifestation in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, revealed as the Word and the Son.
What “Cosmic God” is all about
Other parts of this website section about “Cosmic God” explores various aspects of the nature of God as Transcendent (unknown) and Immanent (revealed), beyond description but having various aspects of Infinity, First and Last Cause and as Trinity, as Good and Humble and what these may mean for us in view of various scientific descriptions of the world and our reality as evolved persons. It is the light of modern knowledge that I seek to explore those traditional conceptions and you will find separate sections related to them.
No God of the Gaps
An agnostic friend invited to view the website asked about whether I was writing about a “God of the Gaps”. The point being that “God” may invoked to explain what cannot be explained by present knowledge, because of gaps in knowledge. The problem then comes that God retreats out of existence when new knowledge arrives to explain things. Do we just invoke the idea of God for the unexplainable? If we find natural causes for things does that mean that God is not there within the natural world?
There is a philosophical exercise that looks for arguments for God’s existence. It came to prominence in the Middle Ages with Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and others. In some ways it was used to accompany faith in Christ revealed in the scriptures with reasonable arguments but it was also a philosophical enquiry in the nature of God as Divine Being. Many of their arguments have long since been demonstrated as not a full proof end set of answers to questions about God. It is doubtful their arguments would hold the same weight today in science and faith arguments.
On the other hand their rational exercise to find proofs was also a devotional one, to inquire as far as possible what we could determine about God on the basis of available physical evidences and manifestations and what may be deduced about God by the application of reason. Ii is clear that in Scotus “Treatise on God as First Principle” it was an exercise of devotion, an act of seeking love and to raise his mind beyond the material. It was done in humility and prayer that he might try and discover more about the God he already served and believed in from the scriptures and past teachers of that faith. He wanted to discover how much he could know of God by his natural reason because for him God was the reason and purpose of his existence.
It is in this spirit of devotional enquiry that these studies are being made, not to try and prove beyond doubt that God exists, or to try and put God into gaps in knowledge. It is to show that current knowledge need not negate our belief in God and is still compatible with Christian faith. Even new knowledge bids is come and worship and find our proper place. For in the words of Paul Tillich “God is our Ultimate Concern”
No image of Thee is good enough
No reasoning can fathom the Ultimate mystery
Which is our Ultimate Concern
We may probe with our minds as far as we may
Yet still must wait for Thy revealing.