The God Perspective

God: a perspective. To you, God, we say you, not knowing quite where the pronoun lands. You lend a perspective on everything else. Or to put this more honestly: you are a perspective on everything, except perhaps on yourself. I do not see, hear, smell, or touch you. Except maybe always, everywhere, and therefore indiscernibly. In the synaesthesia of the universe.

“Fugue” by Kandinsky. Credit: Creative Commons - Public Domain in Russia and USA.

Once it was cozier. Creation meant haeretz vet hashamayim—the earth and the layers of its atmosphere. Now we understand, if only we could, that our planet is to the universe as a grain of sand is to all the sand on the earth. And that is not even counting the multiverse.

This is not cozy. What counts in all this countlessness? We are acting collectively, we humans, like we do not count—or  like only we count, which seems to add up to the same recklessness. We need the you-perspective more than ever. Not the perspective that you as some being have and so lend me, so that now I have a God’s-eye view. We need the perspective that you can be said to be.

What, the name God denotes only a viewpoint? You? Remember that every actual being—I, here, now—is a perspective, not a subject who possesses one. We are each unique events of space-time. The God perspective does not seem to name a unique event in space-time, however, but another kind of event—one that takes in all the shifting perspectives, the aeons, the galaxies. Perhaps it is akin to the “infinite perspective” described by Nicholas of Cusa as he gazed upon an icon before him, gazing upon the gaze that already always gazes back. Cusa titled his 1453 book with a word play: visione dei (the vision of God), a two-way genitive—is it our vision of God or God’s vision of us? This word play mirrors the mirror-play of the image. Cusa asks,

“What else, O Lord, is your seeing … than your being seen by me?” And he notes that the icon looks upon each of us as though it is gazing just at me. But “I” for Cusa am just one of an infinity of interlinked creatures: “each in each and all in all.” So the exercise reminds us that the infinite perspective gazes at each and all together, at once, all in all.

Glimpsing Everything At Once

In the finitude of what counts to each of us, we now and again need to glimpse everything all together. Not that we can—except in the most sketchy of microcosms.

What seems to count is the absurdly particular, finite perspective we render, full of local color: of this patch of city and sky, this ailing institution, this long-missed friend. But in each such sketch everything else is implicated—so the viewpoint might (to stay with the visual metaphor) at a moment mirror the cute digital photo of my nephew, then morph into a cinematographic collage of climate change catastrophes, then shift into a Chagall-like multiperspective of human and nonhuman entanglement, and then shift to a Kandinskian abstraction of the vibrant virtualities that compose the world. Our shifting, intersecting, cross-flowing perspectives are compositions of myriad perspectives, gazes bouncing invisibly through the intervals of each becoming. And sometimes a perspective reveals the very play of perspectives.

So then what if we imagine one perspective, endless in space, endless in time, infinite, which is to say, no “fin,” unfinished and therefore enfolding all the others in their spontaneous emergence? We may conjecture that it is vaguely, mistily, like our perspectives but omnivoyant, minding, enjoying and suffering it all, moved by all of the movement. Oh, and making it all possible. Wanting it. Not micromanaging the cosmos but somehow calling out evolutions of greater complexity, revolutions of more convivial composition. No image, no concept or picture, can quite hold such a perspective. It always turns out to be a projection of our capacities, amplified. But how could we have avoided all the anthropomorphisms, all the God-eyes and God-speech through which we try to get some overview, some guidance? Some clue to the unknown that comes before us?

Our anthropic perspectives do not dissolve into the vast crowd of the nonhuman or into the infinite cloud of the You. They may however find themselves—if they find themselves as perspectives and not as mere truth—complicated. These perspectives are folded together with all the others– and yet still remain other than any others. In them we are still provoked, called, invited to do justice to the others and create of ourselves something beautiful.

Brilliant Darkness

The Israelites gathered at Mt. Sinai

“It emanates from the dark dense cloud in which God Appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai,” Keller writes. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907. Credit: Creative Commons/wikipedia.

To call God a perspective by which we contract the cosmos mindfully does imply that we participate in God, in the perspective of God. The God-perspective can warp into its opposite—into our knowing God’s perspective. Then we think we can tell and teach “God’s point of view.” This God has a perspective, is not one; and He [sic] has revealed it just to his elect. And this God, loved—often with such good intentions—is then maneuvered into a clearly bounded heaven for the gated community of the chosen. “He” becomes incapable of infinity. This bounded view of God does call for atheist reaction. But the reaction mirrors the certainty of the God’s-eye view.

So the God-name comes always again unsaid—if it is any longer worth saying at all.  This apophasis (the “unsaying” or “saying away” of what can be said of God) was called negative theology in the Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. It is the legacy of the “brilliant darkness.” It emanates from the dark dense cloud in which God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The apophatic operation has been a strategy for keeping the God-perspective open. What it negates it may also, in an infinitesimal twist of perspective, amorously affirm. The darkness is not of malevolence but of mystery. Indeed the “clouds of glory” of the Tannaitic midrashim (compiled by the mid third century CE) became writable as the very Shechinah (from shachan—to dwell), the “Indwelling Presence” of God: anan shechinah, “the cloud of the presence.”

This cloud-perspective, this theoria, of theos may be felt as too vastly impersonal to help. Nonetheless it offers itself as a relation to what is impersonal about the boundless universe. So it may also register as love: as relationality that has come into its own.

According to Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present [well-tested] help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change.” Today the earth is changing, and not for the good. The God-perspective is not offering to fix it but to embrace us, to make possible our capacity, our potentia (power as potentiality)—our resistance to all the superpowers of potestas (power as force). Faith in this God means trust in our own capacities—but only each in each and all in all.

This faith will not morph into the guarantee. The end, from the perspective of the infinite, is endless and thus cannot be secured, predicted, or determined in advance. Each end will fade into its perspectival infinity. We won’t take certainty from this cloud of refuge, even when its shines. We might take heart.

(This web-only article is part of a special series associated with Tikkun’s Summer 2014 print issueThinking Anew About God. Subscribe now to read these subscriber-only articles online, and sign up for our free email newsletter to receive links to future web-only articles on this topic, as well! Visit tikkun.org/god-anew to read the other web-only articles associated with this issue.)

Catherine Keller is Professor of Constructive Theology at the Theological School of Drew University, and author of, for example, Face of the Deep: a theology of becoming; On the Mystery: Discerning God in Process; and Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (forthcoming).
 
tags: Christianity, Judaism, Spirituality   
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