Embracing and/or Refusing God-Talk

The term “God” evokes rich variegated responses, each of which is surely filtered through lived experience, whether acknowledged or not. Indeed, God-talk permits as many variations in exposition as does the anti-God talk of atheism. From the outset, however, it is unhelpful to come at the God question generically or in the abstract, it being necessary to talk about quite particularistic claims that are incommensurate to each other.

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane by Giorgio Vasari. Credit: Creative Commons/ National Museum of Western Art/Giorgio Vasari

Here I will consider the God-talk that is generated by the biblical traditions that are variously lined out in the many forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. My own particularity, moreover, is in the Christian tradition.

The God of biblical faith is inescapably embedded in a narrative account of reality that yields many dimensions and nuances. In large sweep we may say that this God is an agent of judgment and restoration that are reperformed many times in the tradition. The theme of judgment is an attempt to speak of ultimate accountability that is structured into lived reality and that precludes us from being free to do whatever we want with impunity. The theme of restoration speaks of the surprise of new emergents in history and creation. In biblical narrative, it is this God who emancipated the slaves from Pharaoh’s Egypt, who brought the Jews home from Babylonian exile, who raised Jesus from the dead at Easter. Such typical and recurring happenings feature a concern for well-being and Shalom in the common good that is marked by mercy, compassion, justice, righteousness, and peace. Such ultimate accountability and such emergence of relational (covenantal) good in biblical tradition are credited to an active, willful agency who is known by name, whose name attests to the personal, relational dimension of ultimate reality. The insistence upon God as agent is a recognition that the reality of our life is at bottom relational and concerns the prospect of fidelity.
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