Sorry if it all got a bit abstract last time – I get carried away with theology sometimes, which is dangerous for an amateur. 😉
So last time I said that God is both unknowable yet makes himself known; that though he is outside the categories of existence he still relates to us personally. Now for another mystery – the simplicity of God.
We imagine God to be immensely complex, beyond all comprehension, and of course in a sense he is. We’ll never be able to understand all of God or contain all that he is in our finite minds. Yet (paradoxically again) “I am” is also incredibly, almost childishly simple.
God is ultimately simple because is utterly one, and at one with himself; utterly united; utterly complete and perfect and whole. Much of our complexity as humans stems from our brokenness, our dividedness, our dis-integrity. God is a seamless, integrated whole.
To express this, Aquinas came up with the doctrine of divine simplicity, which roughly says that all of God’s attributes are aspects of the same unity. There is no division or competition between his mercy and his justice, his love and his holiness, his sovereignty and his self-giving, his divinity and his humanity. He simply is, and all these things are expressions and manifestations of that ‘is’.
God is Reality
‘I am’ also expresses a solidity, a reliability, a steadfastness and substantiality. This is not a God who shifts and changes, or an insubstantial spirit who is hardly really there. He is real, is Reality. He is one who can bear our full weight, the weight of all our lives, all our griefs and hopes and sins and troubles; the weight of the whole universe. We can trust him, rely on him, rest in him, put all our weight on him, cast all our burdens on him. God is.
‘I am that I am’ or ‘I am what I will be’ also acts as a salutary reminder that it is God – not us – who defines who God is. We can’t decide what kind of God we want to serve, what kind of being we want him to be. He is who and what he is; he is full Reality and he defines reality, and we dispute or argue with that at our own risk. If the kind of life we lead causes us to crash up against that reality, we may find it has hard and sharp edges, and we’re likely to cause ourselves suffering as a result.
We cannot shape and mould God to our ends or co-opt him for our agendas; he is himself and he won’t be manipulated or used. He cannot be blackmailed or bribed, bullied or browbeaten (I know; I’ve tried).
This is perhaps one of the meanings of the second commandment, ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’. God’s name is the expression of who he is. We cannot take his name and use it for our own ends, or to justify our own causes. God defines himself and he guards his name – his character – jealously.
So we do not name God, but rather his name names us and gives us our identity, our life, our being.
God is God
God is not a proposition to be proved, nor an equation to be solved, nor a particle to be discovered. God is not a fact to be learnt, nor an object to be scrutinized and analysed. God is not an interesting idea nor an intellectual puzzle to be discussed and debated. God is not a material source to be exploited nor a power to be harnessed. God is not an exciting experience to be had for the seeker of thrills, nor an artefact to be collected by the connoisseur of rarities.
God is God. God is glorious, living Reality to be encountered, embraced, experienced, engaged with; to be known, and known by; to be lived in, founded on, related to, shouted at, grappled with, hated and loved.
God is. We can’t understand God, we can’t define God, we can’t manipulate God, we can’t own or tame or box God. God is always more, always greater, always better and fuller and freer and lovelier. God is unexpected and surprising and paradoxical and counter-intuitive and amazing.
Yet God is also knowable, because he makes himself known. Not comprehensible, not explicable, not expressible, but knowable.
Above all, God is. Everything else flows from that one simple, central, indescribable reality. God is. I am who I am.
And because of that, we who are made in his image – which is all of us – can ultimately be who we are.