Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why we can't ever intellectually understand God

Podcast of this article. Longer version.

(Picture of the relationship between God and the finite above, click to enlarge)

1: What kind of thing is God compared to e.g. a chair?

Saying that God is infinite raises a lot of questions. What does that even mean? What is an infinite object like compared to a finite object, like e.g. a chair? We may understand what an infinitely long line would be like, but what is an infinite object like?

I think the answer is that the core difference between infinity and finite existence is that infinity doesn't allow for a concept of distinctions. For example, if you had an infinitely long and wide plain of grass then you could not find your location on it, since every place has the same attributes as every other place. So infinity tends to take away distinctions.

That's how actual infinity I think 'reaches' infinity, because it comes from a world where there aren't any distinctions at all, and within this distinction-less existence somehow every possible distinction exists, 'distinction-lessly'. That's basically what kind of object God is: a distinction-less object. It's how God knows everything; within His distinction-less existence every possible distinction is contained in a way that allows Him to look at every possible distinction (∞) all at once.

That's why finite reasoning is limited. Since there are an infinite number of possible distinctions between things (e.g. various numbers, sizes, dimensions...) you need the vantage point provided by the 'distinction-less' world to know everything. Or you will always have more possible distinctions to think about.

2: Why this means we can't ever intellectually understand God

This explains why our intellectual (but not necessarily emotional) understanding of God is always messed up: our reason *always* tries to introduce distinctions everywhere it goes, but when it comes to God this simply isn't reflective of reality. And there's just no alternative way of looking at our creator without tying our reasoning in knots. In other words, we can't understand distinction-less existence, and yet we must to understand God.

So, to sum up, we're left with a flawed intellectual understanding of God, or mystery. But we can still know God on an emotional/spiritual/soulful level, which we and God have in common (by that I mean, our soul is somehow like God in the sense that it's made in God's image).

3: A few important clarifications on God being love, a person and a trinity

I want to point out that this seems like a strange idea of God, very far from the loving father of Christianity. The Bible says that God is love. How is the God that I've described love?

I think we need to remember that something being simple in finite terms is very different from the kind of judgements anyone can make about the infinite, the reasons for which I've partly covered. In finite terms, something is simple if there's just 'one' of them, so 'one' is a simple, easy to understand number. In finite terms, the idea of God I've just described is a very 'simple' idea of an ultimate reality, because there's just 'one', it's easily defined and so on.

Finite simplicity argues against the Christian God. But finite simplicity has no connection to the kind of judgements you can make about the infinite, because the infinite is an entirely different kind of thing. So actually, what's simple when it comes to the infinite may be complicated to the finite. I think that the trinity, God being a person, and love coming from God, are such issues.

Somehow, for some reason, the infinite is three persons in one person, which are both three and one at the same time. Finite reasoning has just been thrown out the window, but that's OK, because this is on a different 'level' of reality. Distinction-less existence in other words, is a person, a trinity, and love, in a way that seems really complicated to finite reasoning but which actually isn't. God is the simplest kind of thing you could imagine, but from an infinite perspective rather than a finite perspective, which pretty much makes no sense to finite reasoning but oh well. We shouldn't expect it to.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home