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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Monday, 16 September 2013

The mystery of God and God-talk

My friend Kelvin suggested an interesting analogy today for the nature of God-talk. Kelvin is a mathematician and sees maths everywhere so the following is no surprise.

Take the set of all numbers between 0 and 1.
There are an infinite number of numbers in this set.
There is no biggest number in the set (any number that you specify will always have a higher number)
However, the set is bounded by 0 and 1.
1 is not a part of the set but stands outside of it.

He suggested that God is like the number 1. "He" exists outside the set of all our creational attempts to speak of "him" none of which can be identified with "him". But just as some numbers in the set of numbers between 0 and 1 are closer to 1 than others so too some God-talk bears a closer similarity to God than others. Nevertheless there is always an infinite gap between our talk of God and God-himself (because for any number between 0 and 1 there are an infinite number of numbers between that number and 1).

I thought that was quite an interesting analogy. It has its weaknesses (as all analogies do) but it possibly has something to contribute to the perennial discussion on human conceptions and the Creator God.

4 comments:

David said...

This is exactly why Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich said that God does not "exist." Existence is a property belonging only to that which is finite. God cannot exist, but is rather the "ground of being," as Tillich calls it - in other words, God is that which holds all existence together, and allows it to exist. To say that God exists would be to say that God shares with us a feature in common which God must necessarily not share. It's a wonderful way (as is your friend's analogy), I think, of maintaining the transcendence of God. (Immanence is a different story, and Trinitarianism can be extremely helpful with that, but that's another discussion for another day...)

James said...

Great analogy!

Interestingly, it is not a perfect analogy, but if it *was* perfect, it would disprove itself (as part of the point is that we can't have a perfect description of God.) :-)

Robin Parry said...

David, I have no problem denying existence to God if one is careful to explain what one does and does not mean by that. I think that you put it well.

James, indeed!

Micah said...

I like these mathematical analogies -- fun and intriguing to contemplate.

So, I guess if one were to graph the growth of a person's knowledge about God, in terms of our mistruths becoming better and better approximations of the Truth, assuming they had eternity, and that any wrong detours were relatively temporary, then it would be asymptotically approaching that value of '1', with this analogy? But never reaching it? :)

Maybe a better graph would be one that doesn't converge on a finite number, but diverges, or blows up to infinity, since God is infinite and eternal. Hmm...

----

David,

I'm a little uncomfortable with redefining the word 'exist' to not include God. When we say something 'exists', aren't we saying that it is real? And certainly God is real? He is the fundamental reality; the I AM that I AM -- and someone that IS, exists? I get the idea of wanting to maintain God's transcendence above humanity, but then on the other hand, we are made in His image, so we must have some things in common?