Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good Question from a Reader.

Here's a good question from a reader on the last post:

"Is there any correspondence between "how" and "what" God is? I'm thinking about goodness, or holiness - are these only describing how God is but never what he is?"

My response is as follows:

Good question.
Well, what do we mean when we predicate those things of God?  What we mean is that under his masks he acts in accordance with these terms.  For example, we may say that God is just.  What tells us this?  Well, his just action through his masks- smashing Pharaoh for example.  How does he do this?  Through the plagues and through a Word of attached to them telling us what he means to accomplish by them.
Notice though that the mask is never pulled away.  We never "see" God as just or holy.  We listen and he tells us that what he is doing is such.  This is why his actions under his mask may seem bad to vision, but we "hear" God's Word about the event and we trust and believe that under the covering that they are good and just.
Case-in-point: Jesus.  Go through the Gospels.  Every step of the way Jesus looks to those who do not believe his Word as though he is a sinner.  His mother makes what is, to human reason, a dubious claim of virgin birth (we can only infer what most people thought!), he is baptized with sinners, he associates with sinners.  He claims to be God (the sin of Adam) and he is condemned to death- that's what happens to sinner!  But all along, God testifies of what he really is under his covering of sin and death "my beloved son, etc."
When we believe these words, then we suffer God's action and are able to trust that he is what he says he is.  Nevertheless, that only comes about on the basis of trusting in his self-testimony.  God is always, as Luther says in the Genesis commentary "wrapped up" in a covering.  We deal with God in the covering alone this side of eternity.
Some theologians have attempted to use the "how" to infer the "what" through analogy (Aquinas and Barth).  For them, we can "think-after God" (nachdanken).  We can, they say, pull away the mask and talk about God in himself.  That way God's actions in creation which so often seem contradictory (wrath and grace) can be smoothed out into a unified system of nature being completed by grace.  Nevertheless, this is the theology of glory.  Faced with what Luther called the "nude God," we can only seek to self-justify.  This is why theologies that work on the basis of analogy are necessarily legalistic.


  1. Jack,

    Interesting post.

    "Some theologians have attempted to use the "how" to infer the "what" through analogy (Aquinas and Barth). For them, we can "think-after God" (nachdanken)."

    On the other hand, we have the mind of Christ and are called to imitate Him. How is this imitation done then - how is it distinct from this that you mention above?


  2. Nathan,

    Good question. When we deal with Christ we are not thinking after God. Rather we are dealing with the very presence of God in his creature, namely the humanity of Christ. When we trust God's Word, we can see the visible manifestation of God in Christ for what it is and therefore imitate it in our Christian behavior. Nevertheless two point should be recognized: 1. Seeing Jesus properly is dependent on hearing Jesus correctly. 2. Seeing Jesus is not seeing past Jesus, but see God in him in the concrete.

  3. Thanks Jack. I guess we can think God's thoughts after Him in a sense based strictly on what He has told us. For example, when we are told by Paul that God desires all men to come to a knowledge of the truth, we too, can think this, and also desire it.


  4. Hi Jack. Your posts are always interesting. But I disagree first that analogy in predication about God is wrong, and second that it is linked necessarily with works righteousness. To reject Aquinas and Barth (opposites though they are) doesn't mean rejecting Gerhard's view on this, which is close to Aquinas.