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  • Adam Schell

Naming God

Elizabeth Johnson suggests that taking the full measure of these implications cannot be done apart from three ground rules that govern all speech about God.

The first and most basic is that the reality of God is a mystery beyond all imagining, literally incomprehensible. We can never wrap our minds completely around God and capture divinity in the net of our concepts. The history of theology is replete with this truth if we recall Saint Augustine’s insight that if we have understood, then what we have understood is not God. Or theologian and scholar Sallie McFague’s insistence that since all language about God is technically improper, we speak basically in models and parables. ... Or Karl Rahner’s image that we are a little island surrounded by a deep ocean.

The second ground rule: no expression for God can be taken literally. Whether explained by a theory or analogy, metaphor or symbol, all human words about the divine proceed by way of indirection. We are always naming toward God, not defining God. To cite Sallie McFague again: our words and images are like a finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. ...

The third ground rule is that there surely must be many names for God. If human beings were capable of expressing the fullness of God in one name, the proliferation of names, images and concepts observable throughout religious history would make no sense. Since no one alone is absolute or adequate, a positive revelry, a symphony, of symbols for the divine is needed to nourish the mind and the spirit.


from Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson. pgs 17-21.

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