The Blog of Jack Holloway

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I don't believe in God

Samantha Muljat, Bloodbankdesign
Ok, so you've read the title. And now you've clicked. And now you may be wondering if the title was some kind of misleading click-bait. Well, not exactly. I don't believe in God. Although, I mean this not in the sense you might be thinking. So let's break the statement down, in Seinfeld fashion.

Is it, I don't believe in God? This would imply maybe I have hope that there is God, or I act as if there is a God, but maybe I don't actually believe there is a God.

Is it, I don't believe in God? This would imply a negation of the reality of God, as if to say, There is no God.

I am happy to say that it is neither of these options. No, what I am saying is, I don't believe in God. Now, what do I mean?

I don't believe in God because I can't. I can't believe in God because I have no reference point for God. I, among many ungodly things, am human, am finite. I have no concept of eternity, of true divinity. I only have physicality, temporality, and humanity. I can observe the outside world, but my observation of the outside world is limited, and the outside world is not what constitutes God. Thus, I have no substantial frame of reference for God. Thus, I can't believe in God. Thus, I don't believe in God.

You may be thinking, "Is it that simple?" No, it's not. So let me go on.

I cannot bring about the revelation of God. As Barth says, only God can reveal God's self, and so humans can only believe in what is revealed to them, in what penetrates their world and is put within them and before them.(1) Only by the movement of God are we faced with the revelation of God. As Ephesians says, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (2:8-9).

Even our faith is only possible because of the work of God, because of God's grace. It is only through our obedience to the Word of God that we come to have faith. Barth even goes so far as to say, "Grace is obedience."(2) We do exercise a measure of freedom in surrendering to the grace of God in obedience, but even that freedom is a gift from God, and so we cannot properly find the origin of our belief in ourselves.

Furthermore, even when we have made the leap to faith in obedient surrender to God's grace, we are not met with a crystal clear, unmediated, direct communication from God. We tend to think of God as just another finite being, one who speaks to us directly, one we get to know like we get to know another person, but to suppose so is to commit idolatry. God remains hidden even while revealed. Jesus reveals the God that is hidden. God is forever in a cloud of mystery. We still have no frame of reference for God.

Our belief in God is only our surrender to God's revelation, our submission to God's work in the world, manifested in moments of revelation. Our belief is really only a making ourselves vulnerable to the work of God, opening ourselves up to God's possibility. We let ourselves be happened upon by God, exposing ourselves to the in-breaking of God.

As John Calvin said, "True knowledge of God is born out of obedience."(3)

So, no, I don't believe in God. I succumb to God's revelation.

1) See Karl Barth, "The Word of God and the Task of Ministry," in The Word of God & the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 183-217.
2) Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 229.
3) I cannot find the origin of this quote. I assume it's in the Institutes somewhere, but no one who quotes it cites it, so........

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