Theology: Who is God?

The Scriptures begin with a narrative, not with dogma about God.  We immediately are brought into the unfolding story of what God is doing.  We, through our ancestors, immediately become part of this unfolding story and we are drawn into the story of our humanity, or doctrine under the guise of narrative as St. Gregory of Nyssa is claimed to have said.  God is not something to be studied, but the Great Poet who is also the great architect and creator of the world we live in.   God is a who, the one who is, not a ‘what’ to be studied, but the eternal One who loves His creation.   This One who is, is the same who bestows His love on the world in the incarnation (John 1).

“The critical question for the entire New Testament within its Jewish context is not ‘what’ (a question about divine ‘nature’), but ‘who’ God is (a question of divine ‘identity).   …  although the theology of the person of Christ (who Christ is in relation to God) received thorough doctrinal attention, the ‘meaning’ of the saving work of Christ (how we are saved in specific terms) never received similar doctrinal focus in the patristic period.  One will not find an Eastern parallel to the West’s discussion about justification.”  (Theodore Stylianopoulos, ENCOURAGED BY THE SCRIPTURES, pp 120-121).  

The Bible itself in the book of Genesis begins with “who” – namely God.   God exists and acts.  Genesis does not tell us “what” God is, but God is the main actor and the narrative is His story.  So too, St. John’s Gospel begins with God as does the Nicene Creed.  “Who did this?” is the question that is being answered, not “what is God?”

Adam naming the animals of God’s creation.

The best way to know God is not to study about Him but to know Him through prayer and worship – to encounter Him and experience Him.  God is love, something we might hear about but we are transformed by experiencing His Love.   Trying to know God through definitions, dogma and doctrine is not unlike trying to describe colors to someone born blind.   We need some kind of experience to help us know these things.   St. Ephrem of Syria who usex poetry to help others encounter God had reservations about relying to heavily on doctrine to teach about God.

“To Ephrem, theological definitions are not only potentially dangerous, but they can also be blasphemous. They can be dangerous because, by providing ‘boundaries’, they are likely to have a deadening and fossilizing effect on people’s conception of the subject of enquiry, which is, after all, none other than the human experience of God. Dogmatic ‘definitions’ can moreover, in Ephrem’s eyes, be actually blasphemous when these definitions touch upon some aspect of God’s Being: for by trying to ‘define’ God one is in effect attempting to contain the Uncontainable, to limit the Limitless.” (Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of St. Ephrem the Syrian,  pgs. 23-24)

Moses and the Burning Bush