The Knowledge of the Holy

Dear Bethany,

I choose to address your comment in two parts because, in making your comment, you raised another point which I thought we ought to attend to first before moving on to the topic of Hell.  I also choose to address it in an open letter format because addresses on blogs, I feel, tend to be too vague.  I want to address you, but I don't mind if others listen in.

The point you raised was that you had "come to realise that [you] can't understand God logically."  This was in the context of Hell and Damnation, but I feel the notion has wider ramifications that I can't move on from without addressing.  You talked in your comment about logicality and illogicality.  A student of the rational mind of course is acquainted with sensibility and credibility, and insensibility and incredibility.  We live in a very ordered, lawful world; because of this, we are able to study the world around us, and ourselves, and draw conclusions of theory and fact based on these laws built into the system.  The point I wish to make is that there is a tertium quid - there is a "third thing."  You have irrationality and rationality; I submit that there is also the supra-rational.  This is a thing beyond normal reason, but this does not make it a thing unreasonable.  I do not think it is too much to say that God, being eternal, incomprehensible, "the only wise God," is supra-rational

I want to point out, to your credit, that you don't appear to make the mistake of hubris that I think a lot of people make, and that is that you don't demand that God always make sense to you in your own terms.  The mistake I don't want you to make is to think that, merely because, at first glance - or second, or third, or a lifetime of glances - God's actions do not appear to fit with your paradigm, that means he cannot be, and does not allow himself to be, understood.  If he cannot be understood, there is no point in Creation.  If he cannot be understood, there is no point in our own rationality.  If he cannot be understood, there is no point in the revelation of himself through centuries of human history.  There is no point, if he cannot be understood, in the Cross.

Let me give you first a broad sketch and then a more specific testimony, both in the positive.  In the beginning, we are told, God walked with Man in the Garden.  There was unhindered communication between them, an open, Academic inquiry of the Created with the Creator.  Man was free to ask of his God all he wished to know, and God was free to communicate the communicable to Man.  It pleased God to make Man in his image, a lesser being by virtue of being created, but capable of being drawn up from the rational into the supra-rational.  Through the severance of that fellowship God was able to communicate something new to Man, something which, apart from the existence of sin, Man would not have known.  This was the concepts of justice and justification, which I only mention now: we will address those at another time.  But all down history we see God setting apart a people for himself, a people who will know him, a people to whom he spoke, until at last we come to the last prophet and the Son of God, the Word of God, himself.  Francis Thompson wrote of the Hound of Heaven: I see God hunting, not merely me, but mankind with a vengeance.  He will have his people, he will have men that know him.  He will turn the hearts of men from stone into flesh.  He will write his law upon their hearts and fill them with the fullness of himself.  In reading the revelation of himself, I see a God with his face set like flint to make himself known to Man.

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air -
Do we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars! -
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places; -
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But when so sad thou canst not sadder
Cry - and upon they so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross

Yes, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry - clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesaret, but Thames!

The above poem, written also by Francis Thompson, I feel adequately captures the union of rational and supra-rational.  That which we cannot know is made known to us.  That which we cannot touch we grasp with both hands.  I cannot believe, and the overwhelming weight of redemptive history denies, that the God who gave us logic is incapable of being understood in his self-disclosure through that very same rational capacity.  The trick, the difficulty, is that he is above logic, and we must be taught and moved to a higher comprehension.  It sounds impossible.  In a sense, it is.  But "with God all things are possible," and based on the soul of Thompson and his poem, and the souls of countless others like him, I think it is not so very hard as sceptics would have us believe, for "he is not far from any of us."  I am told that Nietzsche went looking for God and did not find him.  I sometimes wonder if he was not looking soft enough.

I want to move now from the fact of God's supra-rationality to the perfection of it, and from there, I hope, to the desirability of it.  By definition deity is qualitatively and quantitatively greater than creation.  Deity is eternal, deity is boundless, deity is the quintessential existence of all that is splendid and worthy of praise.  God, by the very nature of his being, cannot be composed of any thought or action which is unworthy of holiness.  Two of the revelations of his nature are his mercy and grace: two attributes about God which we would never have understood apart from sin.  Another attribute, which we will have occasion to go into much later, is his justice.  But whatever the attribute, communicable or incommunicable, I think it must follow logically by the very nature of Deity that it must be perfect.  Anything less is less than holiness.

It does not necessarily follow that a soul confronted with the glory of holiness will immediately want to emulate it.  Some souls, though they may not know that God is what they grope for all their lives, are not able, and are not allowed, to see the desirability of God.  Uncle Andrew of The Magician's Nephew is a fictional example of this real-life phenomena.  The fact is that some people find God while others only grope after they know not what - so what draws some to God and not others? what opens the rational mind to the language and higher planes of thought of the supra-rational? what makes the impossible possible? what causes us to catch the many-splendoured thing?  The answers given could be "Jesus," "the Holy Spirit," "the Love of God," and all those answers would be right: taken together, they give a more perfect picture of the means by which God works.  I have not the time now to talk about what the saints for two thousand years before me have discussed about these splendid means.  Suffice it for this letter to say that an individual, having been justified in Christ, having been saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is no longer operating under his former mode of consciousness.  There is now, as Paul said, a new law at work in him.  He is convicted of sin, has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and is moved by a renewal of the spirit to emulate his God.  This, in the context of faith, is perfectly rational, and hopefully we will have occasion to touch upon the rationality of justice and justification later.  Who would not consider it ingratitude that a soul, redeemed of God, preserved in faith by the Holy Spirit, should desire to live still according to the flesh?  Herein is the supra-rational: that a human soul, having believed on Jesus, has his mind attuned to the highest reason of all, the reason from which all reason comes.  He is not taught to think illogically, but to understand above his own natural reason.

I submit to you that, if God is incomprehensible through the use of logic (though not merely the use of logic), he would not have made a logical creature in his image.  If God is illogical, then it is a kind of idolatry to rationalize as we cannot help doing.  We must be brought up into the rationality of a personal God, not surrender without understanding to a God who is insensible. Perhaps the logic of God is only supra-rational to man as a result of human sin, and the logic of the redeemed will once again commune without hindrance or confusion when we finally are 'clothed with immortality.'

In the meantime, one may assume that a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit is a man who has already seen the desirability of God.  But not all knowledge comes at once, and some understandings are easier than others.  I desire God's mercy, I desire his grace, I desire his preserving Spirit to keep me in the path of holiness.  I desire him to teach me to turn from evil and to will and to do what is good.  Because holiness is excellent (is it not?), and if God is holy then it follows logically that he is the uttermost of excellence.  What man, what soul, stirred by the Holy Spirit, would not desire to emulate all aspects possible of such a God?  But at the beginning of the road those are but words clutched piteously by the heart. Man, bearer of the Imago Dei, has the logical rational capacity to grow in his understanding of the supre-rational God. The Holy Spirit undertakes the task of teaching the soul the language of Heaven: the study of the magnitude of evil and the uttermost excellence of God is a hard one, but it is not one, thank God, which we have been banned from learning.

8 ripostes:

  1. What a deep, properly formed post, Jenny! You have put into words the things my heart has said a hundred times but found no voice for. Thank you. :)

  2. To put it another way, we might say that God possesses the fullness, the perfection of logic, and that the logic that we have is a subset of that. Our logic is of the same source, abides by the same rules, and, except when misapplied but sinful minds, reaches the same conclusions, but it is insufficient of itself to compass the whole of God's character, or even the whole of His creation (why is there an entire order, but only one, of mammals that lay eggs?). What has been given has been given to be known, and the means to do so provided; not only our natural rational ability, but more importantly the eyes and mind of faith and the instruction of the Spirit.

    For someone who makes but little claim of her logical prowess, you stated all that most eloquently, and quire accurately.

    “Must that which is manifest be denied because that which is hidden cannot be comprehended?” – Augustine

  3. That was a really deep and eloquent post on the topic, Jenny. Yes, you've also put perfectly into words what I've always thought on this issue. Thank you for sharing. Indeed, our God is bigger than the universe, unsearchable, and His ways are past finding out, yet at the very same time He is so close and reachable that the simplest, smallest child could know Him better than any learned grown person. This is the paradox that really intrigues me about life and most particularly about the truths of God's doctrines.

    BTW, my younger sister Joy, introduced me to your lovely blog and I've just 'followed'. I look forward to your next posts:0)
    It would also be lovely if you could visit my blog sometime at:

    love in Christ,

  4. Like Sarah commented, Jenny, this post was so deep and rich, and I really was challenged by reading it, and you put into the words what I feel myself upon this subject, but so much more poignantly then I ever could :). I look forward to reading your next post in regard to that.

    ~Joy @

  5. I'm trying to read this post as thoroughly as I can before I reply, but please don't hesitate to address the second part, if you are waiting for my response. I'm a bit slow with this sort of thing, but rest assured I haven't forgotten it!

  6. I am still thinking how best to introduce the second act, Bethany, but thank you for replying. I confess I was waiting for your response. But please, take your time.

    My dear everybody else: if I have been helpful, thank God; if I have made sense of these things, thank him still further. I do yet believe in miracles.

  7. I can't really disagree with much of this (not that I'm going out of my way to try to), for if you say that not all understanding comes at once, then my only argument is that there is a great deal of understanding I have yet to receive. I can only speak from my own experience- at the moment, I don't look forward to eternal life, because I can't look forward to what I don't understand. I am currently too obedient to the material world, too reluctant to make myself totally vulnerable, to know the eternity of worship that is (I hope) in store for me. I want, of course, to meet God, and I see WHY I simply /must/ worship Him for forever, because of all He is, but I can't comrehend what will actually occur. "Eternity"? I'm not an empiricist, but nevertheless I can't comrehend being outside of time.
    The reason that /I/ cannot logically understand such attributes of God, like eternity, is because I have never come into contact with it. In an incorporate sense, I am eternal, but like I said, I'm too familiar with the material world- even the ocean began, and it'll come to its cessation. I've never witnessed eternity, but of course that is exactly what faith is, believing that it is there even though I haven't seen it. But this isn't a question of belief, just understanding. I believe that Jesus turned water into wine, but logically I don't know how that transition happened.

    That's just my (much more simple and less thought out than I'd like it to be, I'm afraid) take on the matter of what you've named "The Knowledge of the Holy". It doesn't relate in parrallel terms to what you have written as such, but that's because I can't really contend with alot that you have said, but I've tried to take it on board.

  8. It has been a long time, Bethany, since I have wrestled with these things with someone as thoughtful as you. In this most recent comment you have brought up a number of points which I would like to address as well; you have clearly thought through these things, but I feel I may have some answers which may help and I don't want you to stop thinking about these things. I hope I might be an occasion to spur you on to truths beyond where we are now. Your questions and comments keep opening up wider and wider vistas of discussion!

    As for this post, "The Knowledge of the Holy," I felt it was preliminary and foundational, but other than the concept of the supra-rational I assumed you were already knowledgeable in these things, and you confirmed that in your comment. I have thought through eternity a little (certainly not exhaustively), and since it is a topic I feel many if not all of us stumble on, a concept many of us can't quite grasp, I want to address it once more in a proper post. I hope that it can be shown that where there is great faith there may also be a depth of understanding. So, if there might be a delay in my two-part piece on God, Man, Damnation and Salvation, I will take a little detour and touch upon the concept of eternity.