Do You Believe in God or god?

What if no theological system can describe God? Where does it leave us?

You say you believe in God. What God do you mean? Do you mean an ineffable God, too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words? Or, do you mean a god of a particular theological system?

Perhaps this will help. Let’s call the ineffable God “God” with a big “G”. Let’s call the god of the various theological systems “god” with a small “g”.

Here are just two of the challenges facing theological systems when they try and explain or describe God (big “G”):

  • They try to describe what cannot be described.
  • They try to explain the infinite — an impossible task as the finite cannot penetrate the infinite (Herbert Spencer).(1)

Because the systems do not agree, the systems cannot all be right. Some or all of them must be wrong. One system might be right but which one?

And what about the God with the big “G”? Is this the God of panentheism — the God in which “we live and move an have our being” (Paul in Acts 17:28 NIV, possibly quoting the Greek philosopher- poet Epimenides?) Is this the “I am” of Exodus 3:14? The ineffable God. The God beyond our understanding. The indescribable God. The infinite God. The inscrutable God.

Realizing the inscrutability of God (big “G”) should make us wary of trusting, without question, the gods of theological systems. But will this not automatically lead to resignation and despair? The Roman Catholic theologian Pieper does not think so. Pieper says that “ man, in his philosophical inquiry, is faced again and again with the experience that reality is unfathomable and Being is mystery — an experience, it is true, which urges him not so much to communication as to silence. But it would not be the silence of resignation, and still less of despair. It would be the silence of reverence.” (2) So, do you believe in God or god? For that matter what do you mean by believe?

John Bartels

(1) This does not rule out the possibility of the infinite penetrating the finite.

(2) Footnote 148 in “Doing Theology when God is Forgotten: The Theological Achievement of Wolf Krokte by Phillip Gordon Ziegler attributes the Pieper quote as coming from Joseph Pieper’s “The Silence of St. Thomas: Three Essays”. I have obtained this information from Google using the search terms: Pieper, being, mystery and silence. Please email me if the attribution is incorrect.

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