How Do We Come to Understand God?

I am reading, Knowing God By Name: A Conversation Between Elizabeth A. Johnson and Karl Barth, written by Cherith Fee Nordling. This is not an easy read — probably because I have not read much Barth or Johnson. So, I must stop to process after reading several paragraphs to discuss it, to mull it around, to check if I am understanding what she is saying.

Knowing God By Name is a critique of feminist theologians who claim that male-thinking has complicated our comprehension of the true-and-real God. It is argued that a female’s experience allows for a better way to speak about Her, meaning God. It is reasoned, that this way of female-gendered God-speak — after removing all male-gendered God-speak — enables one to understand the true nature of God expressed through Trinity.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have quite a ways to go before comprehending the mystery of what the Church calls Trinity. Perhaps that is another reason why Nordling’s book is tough reading for me.

One important thing gleaned from her work is how vital it is to evaluate how we each have come to speak about God. In other words, we must do the dangerous work of evaluating the concept of “God.”

Some might call this a work of deconstruction. This work of deconstruction is quite trendy today. It too is tossed around without our fully understanding how it is supposed to work. In my mind, the work of deconstruction needs to be deconstructed — but I leave that for another time.

So, I return to the question: How do we come to understand God? This question raises an unending array of other questions which Nordling addresses further in the book.

Before we can even come to understand God we grapple with an important question: Who names God? Who among us can say who or what God is? Can a person’s own unique experience lead them to God? Or does experience merely lead to a human construct of God?

Is it possible through experience to name and define the ultimate? If we say yes, what should I do when my experience envisions a God in stark contrast to your vision? Should we accept a diversity of visions? Should we allow for a plurality of Gods?

If so, then when and where do these opposing gods function? Is it within reality?  To whom would they display their divinity and authority? Would they, or could they only function within one’s experienced imaginary space?

I am beginning now to see why the idea of feminist experience or any experience for that matter (the idea of experience leading one to God did not originate with feminist theologians) fails in many ways.

Finding or naming God via experience leads only to a human construct — an idol in our own image — nothing more than a god-counterfeit. The ultimate nothingness!

This one thing I do know. My experience has taught me not to trust another’s experience. Therefore I am unable to accept or even trust your god-construct. Knowing and naming God via one’s own experience is not just a mistake, it is an impossibility.

Now this is certainly an idea worth deconstructing.

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