by Micah Cavaleri
We may be starting with a senseless oxymoron in the minds of a few. But I can’t help myself. I recognize the faith of John Caputo (Hoping Against Hope) as a member of the family from which I draw my own faith. Caputo knows the God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, I am growing to trust and have fallen in love with over the years, although Caputo would object to the assertion of knowledge. His radical theology creeps into my preaching, shapes my responses to my daughter’s worries about the truth of our faith, and he would be a most honored guest at my pulpit or confirmation class.
The existence of God has long been exposed as a lost cause to anyone with familiarity with formal logic and a willingness to drink in the explanatory power of the sciences. People such as Alvin Plantinga are intellectually dishonest in their attempts to place faith at the foundation of our knowledge. The worries over faith of any child, as well as the most gifted adults, give away the uncertainty of religious beliefs.
Immanuel Kant’s notion of antinomies helps to illustrate what is wrong with the thought of people who want to talk about the existence of God and knowledge of God. The concept of a divine creator is incoherent and gives rise to wildly divergent claims about any theological matter under the Sun. Kant held that the incoherence showed an uncertainty in our knowledge, but what it opens up for all to see is that the concept of God is not defined in such a way as to make existential and epistemological claims possible. Religious history is testimony to the fact that humans do not know God.
Caputo correctly refuses to fit the God of experience, the God of the mystics, into the box of existence. Institutional orthodoxy wants to force us to choose sides here. Caputo clearly sees that and chooses to correct the confused existence and knowledge claims of theologians by denying the existence of God, replacing existence with the category of insistence. In my mind, orthodoxy, not the monster that has been taken over by institutions, does not choose one side. Rather, orthodoxy chooses all sides: human and divine, one and three, saint and sinner.
The human categories of existence and knowledge are just that… human. Orthodox theology insists on incomprehensibility. It affirms a divinity that is uncontained. We cannot, then, simply deny or affirm God’s existence, as Caputo writes. What we can do is search for a third alternative. Caputo chooses insistence. I choose a description of God as exceeding the boundaries of reality.
I suspect Caputo may agree with me here, but which conception is correct misses the point entirely. The God of mysticism, the God of the orthodoxy that refuses to be contained by institutions and binaries, lives. The God who is found in the darkness of faith refuses our intellectual arrogance. We are continually changed by the Incomprehensible One who is Love.
How can we talk about God then, you may wonder? The world is full of answers, and, with a heart full of thanks I can say, full of mystics. We cannot reach the Incomprehensible, but the Incomprehensible reaches out to us. For we who are Christians, Jesus is the Incomprehensible One reaching out to us. How dangerous that was, when Jesus was rejected by the people of Galilee because they knew his mother and father and sisters and brothers. God is with us, but we cannot find God because we know God too well.
May we all fall in love with the pregnant emptiness that is underneath all that is. Amen.