We are well aware that neither the speech of men nor the analogy of human nature can give us a full insight into the things of God. The ineffable cannot submit to the bounds and limits of definition; that which is spiritual is distinct from every class or instance of bodily things. Yet, since our subject is that of heavenly natures, we must employ ordinary natures and ordinary speech as our means of expressing what our mind apprehends; a means no doubt unworthy of the majesty of God, but forced upon us by feebleness of our intellect, which can use only our own circumstances and our own words to convey to others our perceptions and our conclusions. This truth has been enforced already in the first book, but is now repeated in order that, in any analogies from human affairs which we adduce, we may not be supposed to think of God as resembling embodied natures, or to compare spiritual Beings with our passible selves, but rather be regarded as advancing the outward appearance of visible things as a clue to the inward meaning of things invisible.
–De Trinitate 4.2, Augustine of Hippo, trans. P. Schaff et al.
Recently I have been watching the vlogs of a certain celebrity whom I admire for their honesty and intellectual ability. This celebrity believes in God and formally follows a particular religion; however, I noticed that this person’s conception of God seems to resemble pantheism. I have some sympathy for this position, but I cannot of course endorse or espouse it – my sympathy and intellectual convictions do not extend that far.
It does seem that there are still those theists who are unwilling to have any kind of conception of God that might be labelled “anthropomorphic”. This is understandable: the divine nature (“ousia”) in absolute terms cannot be grasped by humanity (or indeed the other spirits created by Him). To close the gap would mean that God is no longer God. God must be distinct in at least some senses from His creation. It is this innate ontological conviction concerning the nature of God that acts as a source for much of our praise, strengthened by perceiving the wondrous skill and virtue He has exercised in creating and loving us.
Nevertheless, we have been created by God as sentient beings that do much of their thinking and communicating through the medium of verbal language. It is necessary for us to use language at times in order to talk of God (“represent Him”, if you will) and to talk to God. Indeed God has given His consent that this must be so, for He is the One who inspired the Scriptures, and He speaks to us through the voices of prophets, dreams, and visions.
The incarnation is arguably God’s greatest miracle in His desire to communicate with us and to be known by us. Our Lord Jesus Christ expressed this thought in these words: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Paul, expressed the same idea in referring to Jesus as the “image of the invisible God”. Indeed, one strand of thought contained in the idea of Christ’s son-ship is that a son not only resembles a father physically and mentally (“family resemblance”), but also acts as his father’s representative, wielding his authority in business dealings and so forth.
The god of the pantheists may be wonderful in his immanence and in the beauty that we perceive in the natural world. We may even argue that this beauty somehow has a transcendent quality as it inspires a sense of awe in the human mind. However, This being, despite such immanence, is also distant. In emphasizing God’s otherness to such a degree, the pantheists have paradoxically both raised and lowered Him. They have reminded us that God goes beyond our human concepts, that we cannot grasp or contain Him (cf. “My ways are not your ways”; “Who has known His counsel?”); but they have deprived us of His love, of the wonder that is found in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As we draw near to epiphany, which means the appearance or revelation of God, hold on to these lines from the old carol and ponder it in your hearts:
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, / Hail the incarnate Deity!”