For about 6 months now I’ve been working on this Distilled catechism, initially with young people and the questions they ask me in mind. You can peruse the old Questions and Answers by clicking here.
The last couple of days, however, my tranquiliated mind keeps going back to one of the older, original Q/A’s unpacking what the ancient Church called the via negative or apophatic theology.
Monday this week I had unexpected intestinal surgery which has begat other unexpected news; namely that I have a rare form of blood cancer. Turns out I didn’t have ulcers or gall stones after all. Damn.
I like to think I’m unique in all things and, it turns out, I am in diseases too. In just a few short but lingering days, we have had lots of cries and surreal WTF? calls for clarity. We’ve had to tell our boys that ‘Daddy has cancer’ and, even now, we do more of the same (we wait), waiting to find out this evening exactly what type is this blood cancer and at what stage I’ll get thrown in the ring with it.
Doing cancer as a Christian can be hard enough for many folks; doing cancer as a public, professional Christian is something I’m still only beginning to sort out.
Its like someone’s thrown me a gown and I’m still trying to find the arms.
Not only is my faith expected to be a resource for me while cancer tries to kill me, it’s expected my faith vs cancer will be a resource to others too.
And after just 3 exhausting days I can (only) honestly say I don’t know if I can do it- the cancer in a fish bowl thing.
Even still, I’ve started to take stock of where I am at with the bastard formerly known as God and what, of my faith, I must reevaluate or reemphasize.
To that end, I return to Question 13 from the beginning of Distilled. Suffering terrific post-op pain, acute melancholy and ___________ cancer, it’s more important to me than ever before that what I speak of God- or have spoken to me- is true. Or at the very least, not idolatrous nonsense.
I. The Father
13. How should we speak of God?
With deep humility, realizing that even our best speech is nonsense when applied to God and, as sinners, we’re prone to project our feelings and wills upon God.
We should speak of God always realizing our best words fit God like a baby’s clothes fit on a grown-up. Our language for God is approximate without being at all adequate.
For this reason, the best way to speak of God is to begin by saying what God is not (an approach called the via negativa):
God is not hate, for example. God is not a man with a beard.
Or, God is not cancer.
When we arrive at a negative statement which we know is false (eg, ‘God is not Love’) then we know we’ve hit upon something true of God.
‘Whoever does not love does not know God.’ – 1 John 4.8