The God who Communicates
Another implication of the limitation of human reason is that there are things we simply cannot know about God. If God is transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc., then we will always have trouble understanding God’s perspective. We have no experience of what it is like to be omnipresent or omniscient, and we can only conceptualise them in terms of things we already know. Hence, like the mystics before us, we are forced to admit that such a God is beyond us: inconceivable; indescribable; unfathomable. How can embodied, finite beings ever hope to understand a God who is infinite spirit?
Yet Christians believe that the transcendent, infinite God can, and does, communicate with us. We make a big deal out of the bible, because we believe that it is communication from God himself. God has made himself known through intelligible words and language.
Leaving aside questions of how we got the bible in its current form, there are still difficulties. Communicating with someone in my own culture and environment is problematic enough. Most of the bible was written more than 2000 years ago in places and cultures completely alien from my own situation. Understanding a communication from a transcendent God, written by people in completely different cultures and times is always going to be a difficult job.
And when I read the bible myself, I find that it is difficult to understand… but not impossible. It helps to understand the culture and times in which the book was written. If I can understand how the people in those times and places thought, then I have a better chance of understanding the book I am reading. For example, I had no idea why the book of Revelation included this verse:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer.
—Revelation 21:1 (HCSB), emphasis mine
The sea is beautiful, powerful, majestic. It speaks of God’s beauty, God’s power, God’s majesty. When I sit by the ocean and feel it’s amazing size and see the power of the waves, I am humbled and realise how small I am in comparison to the God who made the ocean. How could there be no sea in the new heaven and earth?
The phrase made no sense until I read a commentary. The commentary informed me that in Jewish thinking, the sea was symbolic of chaos and disorder. It was frightening and unpredictable. People died at sea. And the symbolism goes all the way back to the creation story:
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
—Genesis 1:2 (HCSB)
When God created the universe, he spoke into the chaos and darkness, bringing order and light. I now understand that when it says ‘the sea existed no longer’, it is indicating that creation has reached fulfilment and chaos and darkness have been eliminated.
The upshot is that understanding communication across 2000+ years will require hard work. But surely if this communication really is from God, it is worth the effort. If we received a message from outer-space indicating that alien life existed, then I imagine we would spare no amount of effort to decode it and understand it. It would be worth the effort to find out what people from another world had to say. How much more important should it be when the creator of the universe sends us a message?