Thursday, 11 October 2007

Gnosticism and Speaking of God

Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies spends a fair bit of space detailing the intricacies of various Gnostic theologies. His stated reason is that just to describe these views rebuts them for most people, they are that outlandish.

He’s got a point, reading Apocryphon and some summaries of a few other Gnostic works reminded me of a mix of the most bizarre elements of Mormonism and Scientology.

However, for the person whose mind takes paths less travelled I could imagine that Gnosticism would offer something substantial. These aren’t the writings of idiots. They are thoughtful and evocative attempts to explain everything from God down and shed light on human experience of life. They have the ability to capture the imagination and stimulate religious feelings (apparently there exists a body of Gnostic poetry that is in places quite moving).

It reminds me again that evaluations such as deep and shallow, thoughtful and sentimental, evocative and prosaic, creative and pedestrian can only be, at best, penultimate.

It is never good for talk about God to be shallow, sentimental, prosaic or pedestrian. No matter what the content of such speech is, that kind of form denies the reality of God. But I’m not sure that the answer is to try and be deep, thoughtful, evocative, and creative—as though the answer is found just in pursuing the opposite set of qualities. One can be deep etc. and still offer something false in root and branch. Shallow truth is better than deep error when serving the Church. (I’m not sure it works quite the same way in Academia, but that’s a thought for another post.)

But ultimately, the real answer is to be found in aiming to have what you say reflect who God is in both its form and its content. It is not a silver bullet, there’s no magic mechanical three step plan there that stops you from becoming inane or error-filled. But God doesn’t submit himself to human control. If we are given the grace to speak rightly of God, then that is his gift. While God is free to give such a gift to whoever he wants, there is a regular call to humility. And in a sense aiming to have what you say reflect who God is is just another way of saying, speak with humility. True humility is the basis for knowledge of God. Humility and faith are interwoven.

James 4:6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."


qraal said...

Hi Markon

There's two sides to any communication - the speaker and the hearer. Perhaps we should pray that we might speak God's Word, and that our hearers might hear His message, His Gift, to them and not be distracted by the clumsy packaging we've wrapped it in. After all it's His Word.

qraal said...

On another issue I've always felt sympathetic to the Gnostics when confronted by simple-minded sermons and "easy-to-understand" theologising from the Orthodox Catholics. Is there a place for deep theologising amongst those ready for it? If so, send me the address ;-)

Baddelim said...

Hi qraal

One of the posts lurking in the back of my head is one on how different people find different styles of church and sermon more attractive.

My experience is that the kind of preaching that is 'just right' for me is generally too demanding for others.

I suspect this is one of those gift issues that prompts the biblical exhortations to bear with one another. I bear with the majority who need something other than what hits the spot for me. They bear with me that I need to get some of my nourishment in other ways.

In my daydreams it would be nice to have a church where everything was just as I needed it. It'd be a very very weird place though. :)

in Christ,