Archives For Faith and Reason

Skeptical BelieverI know ‘apophatic’ is a mouth full.

Also called the ‘negative way,’ apophatic theology asserts that God (because God is transcendence itself) is essentially and absolutely unknowable. In addition, because we’re finite sinners we’re constantly prone to cast our projections, assumptions and images upon God, rendering God in our image rather than vice versa.

For this reason, apophatic theology is an attempt to strip away our anthropomorphizing of God by confessing what God is NOT rather than assuming what God is.


So rather than saying ‘God is mighty’ we profess that ‘God is not hate.’

Instead of calling God Father we first confess that ‘God is not male.’

Rather than praise ‘Our God is an awesome God’ we sing ‘God is not evil.’

While the apophatic tradition is prominent in all the theistic religions of the world, particularly Islam for what should be obvious reasons, Maximus the Confessor and the Pseudo Dionysius are its most noteworthy Christian practitioners.

I mentioned apophatic theology recently in a worship planning meeting, in anticipation of our Skeptical Believer sermon series. In fact, I commented/observed how apophatic theology flies in the face of most over-confident, anthropomorphized evangelicalism and thus is nearly 100% absent from the airwaves of contemporary Christian music.

Andreas Barrett, our resident bard, took my off the cuff remarks on a Mystical, Medieval tradition and wrote up a song that might’ve made Maximus the Confessor smile (doubtful actually, I mean…you can’t have a very good sense of humor if your name ends in Confessor).

295024_10151240304491769_259193053_nAnyway, here’s the song. The lyrics at least. The music’s an upbeat, fiddle-led country tune:

Heaven’s Knot  ♦  Words and music by Andreas Barrett

I don’t know what you are, but do I need to know? 

I may have once upon a time, but I forgot. 

Now your ways are unknown, but I’ll always be your own, 

All the while I’ll be untangling heaven’s knot

Heaven’s not a place to cry, 

Heaven’s not the stars and sky, 

Heaven’s not a place just past the pearly gates.

I don’t know what you are and though it may appear bizarre, 

I will follow where your mystery awaits.

I don’t know what you are and I may never know; 

Sometimes just a clue would hit the spot. 

But when the truth is unseen, I will still know what it means; 

All the while I’ll be untangling heaven’s knot.

Heaven’s not a place to hate, 

You can’t put that on heaven’s plate. 

Heaven’s no eternal isolation zone.

I don’t know what you’ll be, but it’s pretty clear to me: 

Heaven’s not a place for us to feel alone.

Heaven’s not a place to cry, 

Heaven’s not the stars and sky, 

Heaven’s not a place just past the pearly gates.

I don’t know what you are and though it may appear bizarre, 

I will follow where your mystery awaits. 

I will follow where your mystery awaits.


What If There Is No God?

Jason Micheli —  October 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

Skeptical BelieverWe continue our Skeptical Believer series this weekend with the theme: ‘Questions Don’t Hurt God’s Feelings.’

And here’s Woody Allen asking the biggest question of all:

1381692_387083858087384_1966426747_nWhat more could you want for your morning than the silky smooth, sexy sound of my voice cogitating on Medieval metaphysics? Fine, listen to Matt Lauer first and then you can listen to this. Jason with a dog beats Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball any day.

Here’s the sermon from this weekend:

      1. I'm an Atheist Too

Skeptical BelieverDavid Bentley Hart likes to quip:

‘An atheist is someone who has failed to notice something very obvious.

Or rather, failed to notice a great many obvious things.’

He also amusingly condescends that pure atheism, which asserts the impossibility anything beyond the material, natural world, is an absurdity such that it can be likened to ‘magical thinking.’

When it comes to arguments for and against God, Hart knows his stuff; that is, he knows the ancient Christian and classical tradition. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Hart, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, can muster a balls-to-the-wall indictment of God that no unbeliever could possibly approximate.

In his little pastoral book, The Doors of the Sea, itself a continuation to a Wall Street Journal article he wrote, David Hart recalls reading an article in the NY Times shortly after the tsunami in South Asia in 2005. The article highlighted a Sri Lankan father, who, in spite of his frantic efforts, which included swimming in the roiling sea with his wife  and mother-in-law on his back, was unable to prevent any of his four children or his wife from being swept to their deaths.

In the article, the father recounted the names of his four children and then, overcome with grief, sobbed to the reporter that “My wife and children must have thought, ‘Father is here….he will save us’ but I couldn’t do it.”

In the Doors of the Sea, Hart wonders: If you had the chance to speak to this father, in the moment of his deepest grief, what should one say? 

Hart argues that only a ‘moral cretin’ would have approached that father with abstract theological explanation:

“Sir, your children’s deaths are a part of God’s eternal but mysterious counsels” or “Your children’s deaths, tragic as they may seem, in the larger sense serve God’s complex design for creation” or “It’s all part of God’s plan.”

Or “It’s okay, God is mourning too” which is only a more sensitive-sounding but equally deficient explanation precisely because it still attempts an explanation.

Hart says that most of us would have the good sense and empathy to talk like that to the father (though my experience tells me Hart would be surprised how many people in fact would say something like it).

This is the point at which Hart takes it to the next level and says something profound and, I think, true:

“And this should tell us something. For if we think it shamefully foolish and cruel to say such things in the moment when another’s sorrow is most real and irresistibly painful, then we ought never to say them.”

Silence is the best thing to (not) say when there’s nothing to say.

Hart goes on to reflect on The Brothers Karamazov. In it, Dostoyevsky, in the character of Ivan, rages against explanation to his devout brother and gives the best reason I’ve ever encountered for not believing in God.

Better than anything in philosophy. Better than anything science can dredge up. Better than any hypocrisy or tragedy I’ve encountered in ministry. Better, it goes without saying, than anything the ‘New Atheists’ delude themselves into thinking is a compelling argument.

Ivan first recounts, one after another, horrific stories of tortures suffered by children- stories Dostoyevsky ripped from the pages of newspapers- and then asks his pious brother if anything could ever justify the suffering of a single, innocent child.

What makes Ivan’s argument so challenging and unique is that he doesn’t, as you might expect, accuse God for failing to save children like those from suffering.

He doesn’t argue as many atheists blandly do that if a good God existed then God would do something to prevent such evil.

Instead Ivan rejects salvation itself; namely, he rejects any salvation, any providence, any cosmic ‘plan’ that would necessitate such suffering.

Ivan admits there very well could be ‘a reason for everything’ that happens under the sun.

Ivan even believes that in the fullness of time we will be able to see for ourselves why everything on Earth unfolded as it did, that, as Joseph in Genesis confesses, God can use even evil for his good ends.

Ivan doesn’t disbelieve.

Ivan just refuses to have anything to do with such a God.

So, Ivan doesn’t so much doubt God as he rejects God, no matter what consequences such rejection might have for Ivan.

He turns in his ticket to God’s Kingdom because he wants no part of the cost at which this Kingdom comes. It is, ironically, a thoroughly Christian rejection in the sense it’s a rejection born of very Christ-centered sensibilities.

What Dostoyevsky understood is that most compelling arguments against God are not philosophical or scientific ones. They’re moral ones.

Atheism, as popularly understood, is an absurdity. I’m with Hart on that. Properly understood, ‘God’ is the most obvious thing of all.

So arguments against God’s existence ultimately crash against the rocks of logic.

But arguments against God’s goodness? That’s another matter.

When I first read the Brothers K, Ivan’s argument, which is followed by the poem ‘The Grand Inquisitor, took my breath away. I had no answer or reply to Ivan.

I was convinced he was right. I still am convinced by him.

Of course, Ivan’s argument doesn’t disprove God. It only rejects the god ‘who has a plan for everything.’ I also reject that god.