“What would happen were the word [“God”] to vanish altogether? Karl Rahner has rightly answered that then we would no longer be confronted by the one totality of reality or the one totality of our own existence. The word ‘God,’ and that word alone, does this.” -Wolfhart Pannenberg (page 71 of his first volume of his Systematic Theology)
It’s a curious thing meeting people who have distinct and extensive experiences of God in their past but now find themselves uninterested with what, presumably, was once a concrete and consistent in their life. I have come across one of those people recently and it reminded me of the heart of this website: never stop learning about Jesus. In this case I feel the need to remind myself that part of learning about Jesus is confronting God and what that word means. The next paragraphs will do just that in a bit of an obscure but hopefully challenging way.
Pannenberg, in the quote above, is saying there’s a function to the word “God” that points us to the ultimate outside of ourselves. A place, a unity, a wholeness in the deepest sense of meaning and being, that brings us to the unity and source of everything. I like to think of it like those things we learn about life that are elementary to learning and then contrast those things to the non elementary things we learn. Elementary like photosynthesis, atoms, or just learning that different and other people exist. But when we go beyond the scale of basic human knowledge to things like revelations from art and recognizing beauty in nature, living becomes meaningful. And it’s at this level of contrast we are confronted with how easy it is to get in a rut in life because it’s not easy to keep going beyond the elementary without being elementary. I got an illustration here.
Each night, my 5 year old gets out of the bath, I’ll hand her a towel and tell her to dry herself off first. She’ll rub herself dry for maybe 3 seconds and then break down in tears screaming she’s cold. Her catch phrase at this point is, “I want daddy!” This is code for, “daddy I want you to dry me off and keep me warm.” In her ignorance and immaturity she has yet to learn that a crucial step to getting warm from cold bath water is drying off the water. She has to confront the feelings of evaporation and learn how to dry herself off and get her pajamas on. My job until then is guide her to keep confronting those debilitating feelings until she can do it herself. In a sense we’re being thrown into life and tasked with confronting the horizons of cold immaturity to learn how to reach warmer climates of wisdom and experience.
God is the ultimate horizon because he’s a destination as much as a horizon. We can ignore this need to search for the ultimate whole as Pannenberg reminds us (through Rhaner), not face it, refuse to live in relation to its meaning on its own terms, but that would ignore reality and ignoring reality is not fully living. Living is ongoing, confronting experiencing into experience. Don’t stop.
“Gradually we see that each image, from the cell to the cosmos, is not only grand, it is beautiful.”-David Wolpe
The word “God” for the Christian forces us to our knees and face the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. They are what the word means in a real way not an abstraction. They are the point, place and totality of the horizon “God” leads us to. They are a baptism into confronting experiencing until we are people one with experiences and experience. They give the guidance to see the truth and not waiver. To confront them is to see faith, hope, love, and life as it has revealed itself, on its own terms. The confrontation God initiated with us in Christ through his life, death and resurrection is the doorway into a horizon of never ending hope. Everlasting to everlasting. Faith unto faith.
May you seek new dimensions of God to confront and let the tragedy of the cross over shadow the tragedies of ignoring God all together. Never stop learning about Jesus.