“We must not, when we do speak, say too much.”

I don’t have time at the moment to comment on this section from the first volume of Sonderegger_Katherine_photo2014-256x300Kate Songeregger’s dogmatics, The Doctrine of God. I simply put it here with some reading notes to mull over. In the section I’m excerpting from she wrestles with the long-standing tension between God’s knowability – he does not remain hidden – and his utter incomprehensibility – he is not a being to be comprehended in the way we know beings of our own sort.

What strikes me every time I read this volume is her boldness to attempt two things at the same time, neither of which come easily. She works to solidly situate her restatement of Christian teaching squarely within the stream of Christian thought, while simultaneously reconsidering the sources of Christian theology afresh. As in the following bit, you can’t miss her sense that the question is still fresh for us, for her: how shall we speak of God?

We cannot stress too strongly the radical novelty that is human knowledge of this incomparable Subject. Again and again we must be broken on this novelty, this transcendent Uniqueness. We may speak, if we care to, of the ancient puzzle of the One and the many – but the Lord God of Israel, the One God, outstrips and explodes even that ancient mystery, this One without Form or Likeness. “No one has ever seen God,” John tells us in the close of the great epilogue; but “the Only Begotten has made Him known” (John 1:18). Its all there, in that one verse, isn’t it? Everything we have said about God’s Uniqueness and Formlessness, His majestic Life as dynamic Light, His deep Hiddenness and Humility—is it not captured in a few simple words? And our knowledge “at a distance,” our success in knowing the Lord—as Mystery, our earthen vessels that hold such Light—is that not also set forth here, a gift of our Lord Christ?…God is known! A positive relation, a beachhead has been established, between Creator and creature, and in that Radiance, God has been made known. But such a knowledge! (390-91)

In short, when speaking about the knowledge of God we have ground to stand on, a “beachhead”: the Incarnation of the Son. But still, perhaps the knowledge we gain in the appearing of the Son should drive us to silence. Or perhaps compel our use of Platonizing concepts that hold God at reserve—out of respect for his divinity of course. Perhaps it’s all too great for us to really do anything with besides stunned silence! Indeed, she asks, “Why should we speak rather than hold our peace when in the presence of this great Mystery?”

I found her response poignant. I have been teaching on the subject of divine attributes this week in an upper level theology course and keep pressing my students with the question, What can we expect from these attribute-words? If God sails these words to us in Scripture, where do they take us? What kind purchase do they give us on the Ever-Living-One? We must go on speaking, Sonderegger writes,

because God wills to be known in just this fashion. This is the deep Hiddenness of God, his invisible Deity and Power, revealed in the things he has made: the disclosure of His mystery, His Omnipresence. That we know the Divine Attributes that remain, in their being known, Invisible and Hidden: this is the exceeding enigma, the darkened glass, that is creaturely knowledge of the all-knowing God. But we have only begun our quest when we affirm all this! For what is the ground, the likeness, the image, and relation on which such a statement is made? Can there be such? The questions we raise here show the marks of an earth-bound creature striving to speak of Divine Simplicity or Infinity or Transcendence, and we feel pressed on every side to weakly confess a “knowing ignorance,” and leave it at that (392).

Yes, yes, we might nod. But she presses us back (her boldness again):

The doctrine of God in Christian dogmatics has often been stymied and cut short by this pious conviction that we should confess our ignorance and the Divine Mystery, forswear all empty speculation [narrative theologians nod their heads], and turn to those things we can know, the earthly and concrete. But we have not obeyed the First Commandment, in my view, as we ought, and as we have been permitted to do, when we plead only a knowing ignorance, and lapse into reverent silence. We must press on to know the Lord! But we must do so aright; we must not, when we do speak, say too much (392).

One thought on ““We must not, when we do speak, say too much.”

  1. Lovely reflections. I can’t wait to spend some time reading Prof. Sonderegger’s work (it’s on my list for the quieter, darker winter months). Thank you for sharing, Kent!

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