Sunday, 5 February 2017

A rhyme for 'God'

This week, I’ve found Bono writing of a new book by Richard Rohr:

Humanity is a perfect rhyme for what Christianity, trying to express the inexpressible, calls the holy trinity.

And Marilynne Robinson quoted in The Tablet:

I tend to think of all language as necessarily inexact when it is used to describe things beyond the experiential world – or, better, as free from the narrowness of meaning this-worldy understanding implies of it.

So I’ve returned to a little story I tell often.  In fact, I’m a little surprised to search back over eight and half years of blogging here to find that I’ve not posted it before. 

One of my brothers began an A-level science course forty years ago.  The school teacher welcomed the students.  He said how good it was to have so many who had done well at O-level wanting to study further.  He added that it would be fun to teach them without having all those who were not keen on the subject clogging up the class as well.

He then gave them a warning.  “If you are going to do well at A-level,” he said, “you need to know that a lot of what we taught you at O-level isn’t actually true.”

It links firmly in my mind with a quotation from Archbishop Anthony Bloom which I have posted before:

The little we know of God makes it difficult to learn more, because the more cannot be added to the little, since every meeting brings such a change of perspective that what was known before becomes almost untrue in the light of what we know later. 

You’d get stuck doing A-level science if the only model of an atom in your mind was one of a mini-solar system probably imagined with ping pong balls.  You’d get stuck growing in knowledge of God if the only model in your mind was the children’s hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful’ probably imagined as a powerful white bearded deity in the sky.

More profoundly, science traces back the origins of our expanding universe to a point 13 or 14 billion years ago when everything was one tiny point.  It warns us that this can’t be envisaged as a particular point in otherwise vacant space or to a particular time after an eternity of waiting: both space and time have their origins at this point as well.

So it is not possible to talk of ‘before’ or ‘outside’ or ‘causing’ this point simply because such language doesn’t make sense without space and time – which is as clear an illustration as I can imagine of the sort of ‘change in perspective’ and view of God ‘which becomes almost untrue’ of which Bloom writes.

I see that the earlier post acknowledges this and suggests a way through this, a way which does also have a Trinitarian shape:

Our instinct and hypothesis remains that it is meaningful to use this word God about what sometimes seems to meet us in these flawed places and sometimes seems to call, draw and take us beyond them.  Our instinct and hypothesis remains that in Jesus of Nazareth we can see most clearly what God would look like when expressed within the time and space beyond which we cannot conceive. Our instinct and our hypothesis is that what we encounter in creativity, love and communication are also echoes within time and space of the life of the God who draws us and who we see in Jesus.

I do quite like ‘rhyme’ as an alternative to ‘echo’.

The picture is another one of St Michael’s which I’ve found recently, this time without being able to pin down any copyright possibilities.  It dates from the 1950s – the main road outside the church had already been straightened but housing had not yet encroached on its splendid but still slightly surprising isolation.

1 comment:

Joy Davis said...

Interesting post Peter, I too read the review of the new Richard Rohr.

Love the photo, splendid in its isolation