On “Defining” God
Many men throughout history have concerned themselves with knowing this entity we call “God”. And throughout the ages, even within the Christian Tradition, many men have claimed to, without question, have defined Him. “This” they say “is what God is like”. As if the matter were settled and the entirety of all that could be said about God is contained in a small list of statements.
I thought I had this sense of certainty about God once, too. In my undergraduate studies, I spent four years researching, critiquing, and thinking about who God is. I sought the utmost philosophical clarity and precision. I wanted an inarguable and irrefutable definition of “God”. I wanted an unchanging frame of mind when it came to God.
In other words, I sought to justify myself by acquiring intelligence around the subject of the Divine.
The problem with this is that I never have settled in my stance. I set out to compound an exhaustive report of “God”, and thus end the debate we’ve had for ages. However, my case files have grown too large, and, too contradictory. The image of God in my head now is nothing like it was a year ago, or three. In fact, one could even argue they are entirely different conceptualizations, hardly stemming from the same tradition. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in the same God! Rather, my view of Him has radically expanded.
If He is Infinite, how could we expect anything else but expansion?
In the Bible, God shares His Name with us: Yahweh. Literally translated, His name is “I AM that I AM”. Which, to be honest, doesn’t act as a clarifying statement.
This is the same God who proclaims that His ways and His thoughts are higher than us. Paul describes Yahweh’s works in history as a mystery being revealed to us by the pneuma (Holy Spirit; breath; wind).
On the topic of knowing God in Ephesians 3, Paul uses the word Ginosko (personal knowledge) rather than Gnosis (mental, philosophical, intellectual knowledge). Granted, they are related words in their root, the implications are different. Ginosko was used as an idiom for interpersonal relational knowledge in the Septuagint. Think, “When Adam knew Eve” type of language. It’s sometimes used as a jewish sexual idiom, and sexuality is of course the most intimate form of relational knowledge we can obtain.
Paul claims that the best pursuit is a Ginosko of the love of God which is beyond Gnosis, or intelligence-knowledge, mental-furniture knowledge (Eph. 3:19).
We ought to relationally know the God we can’t intellectually comprehend. This “ginosko knowledge” is like how you know your spouse, your mother, or your best friend. You have this space devoted to them in your heart. You remember the funniest things about them, and have this awareness of them which transcends your logical brain. Sometimes they do things or say things that you just knew were coming, because you are intimately acquainted with their ways. It’s a relational knowledge.
Many of us shy away from this type of knowing when it comes to God, because it means we have no control over Him. See, this God refuses to be kept in an intellectual box, but yearns to be intimate with us, and relational with us. This God is scary. We say He’s One-but-Three, interdependent yet distinct. Before, behind, and upholding all things to His domain. Reconciling all things.
He is like water, always escaping our comprehensive grasp, running through our fingers as we reach for a definition of Him, yet upholding and sustaining the very essence of life within us.
How many of us have sought to hold the water of life in our hands and analyze the molecular compounds of it, when what was truly needed is to take a drink? It’s like slowly dying of thirst while standing in the middle of a roaring river.
How much better is it to taste and see that the Lord is good? How much better is it to know Him like a father? To love Him with your whole body, soul, and mind? I pray this is the knowledge I’d have of Jesus, a ginosko knowledge, an intimate acquaintance with His ways. May you find the same, and may Grace and Peace be with you always.