The two prior posts in this series have asked the question, “What can we truly say to God, and perhaps more importantly, about God?” God, in the words of the popular hymn, is “immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.” And although we can know Him in Jesus Christ, and rejoice that Christ took on human flesh for our sakes, we still must be careful to demonstrate sufficient reverence; sufficient Godly awe; and most of all, complete humility, when speaking about the Creator of the universe.
Our Orthodox brothers and sisters have wrestled with this issue, as perhaps all thoughtful Christians must. Early in his book, The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos Ware discusses what is called the “apophatic approach.”
Recognizing that God is incomparably greater than anything we can say or think about Him, we find it necessary to refer to Him not just through direct statements but through pictures and images. Our theology is largely symbolic. Yet symbols alone are insufficient to convey the transcendence and the “otherness” of God. To point at the mysterium tremendum, we need to use negative as well as affirmative statements, saying what God is not, rather than what He is. Without this use of the way of negation, of what is termed the apophatic approach, our talk about God becomes gravely misleading. All that we affirm concerning God, however correct, falls far short of the living truth.¹ [Emphasis mine]
Quoting Cardinal John Henry Newman, Bishop Ware concludes: “we are continually ‘saying and unsaying to a positive effect.'” This “dazzling darkness,” as Bishop Ware calls it, “brings us not to emptiness but to fullness.” And I would add, to much needed humility.
By order of Him who spoke, everything will be understood at the opportune time. —Saint John of the Cross, quoted in Magnificat, January 31, 2010
¹ p. 14, The Orthodox Way