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A Sermon by the Rev. Stuart Schadt

All theology spends a certain amount of time talking about the problem of Language. The problem is that our language is finite and God is infinite. Our language speaks of our reality and God exist in and beyond our reality.

Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catholic theologian, said all language we use to speak of God is the language of analogy. God is like a father or a king or a shepherd but yet God is not king, shepherd or father.  

John Calvin one of the protestant reformers says that the use of human analogy to speak of God is an accommodation to our inability to understand the fullness of God. It is as though we are trying to explain a very complicated idea to a child so we simplify it. I don’t really like the idea that we are being spoken down to, but this understanding also makes sense.

Sometimes the language of analogy is the language of poetry or imagery.  As an example let me take the idea of God as Shield, The Old Testament in numerous places says God is a shield. To me that is a more powerful image than to say God protects us. Shield just says it better.

So God has no hand to touch us with, no feet with which to walk in the garden, and no mouth from which to speak to us. And most importantly for our use of Language God has no gender. Yet God can reach out and touch us, God can walk with us and God can call to us. And yes we are made in the image of God.

Paul Tillich a theologian of the early 20th century introduced us to the concept of God as the ground of all being. Not a very large being but the force that gives life to being to existing. God is that which makes being or existing possible. It is our connectedness to God that keeps us from slipping out of existence into nothingness. As we push the analogy of the ground of Being it begins to sound like “The force be with you.” The Force was the life power of the universe in the Starwar’s movies. The force is actually a good analogy. God is the force that sustains and connects all creation.

Our struggle is to find a way that both celebrates, the transcendent God of the universe and the intimate God of our lives. Maybe the Traditional Language of the Trinity offers us some help. Though it is not perfect Trinitarian teaching we can easily think of God the Father as the transcendent God of the Universe, God the son as God who knows us and walks with us and God the Holy Spirit as God who dwells in us and sustains us.

So what might we conclude about God and Language:

  1. When someone uses a non-traditional analogy they are not a heretic they are simply exploring a different dimension of God. St Theresa of Avila (1515) calls God Mother. And yes God is as much our mother as our Father. I think God as Tree says a lot as the tree puts its roots deep and unseen in to the ground and yet also reaches up and out toward the sky.
  2. If we are in the habit of only speaking of God in one way, finding ourselves always saying Lord, Father or Christ it can add a dimension to our spiritual life to pray to God in a different way, speaking to God as Jesus, or spirit or mother. The Old Testament actually has about twenty ways of naming God. Some translations of those names are God who sees, God who Knows, Lord is peace, God most high.
  3.   We must ask ourselves if some our traditional analogies like shepherd or king are really adequate in a world where we do not know any shepherds and where most kings are toppled and replaced by democracies. Are there new ways that we might speak of God?

 

God sustains and calls to us. God calls us to reach for the fullness of our potential and we only find that through living into the fullness of God.

 


Copyright © 2011, The Rev. Stuart E. Schadt. All rights reserved.