Knowledge of God, and missing the point

It is very much as Barth say it is, as Calvin frames it -- natural knowledge of God is subordinate to revealed knowledge of God. It only exists in the retrospective view of faith. To try and make a way from nature to God primary is to confuse apologesis with catechesis. Rom 1:19-20 can be read as though natural knowledge of God made the unbeliever inexcusable, but it shouldn't be. God is not revealed in creation -- God is hidden by it! Were creation our epistemological ground, we would be unjustified in knowing anything about a God who acts utterly unconstrained by it. Such a God is ridiculous, once we get past the point where a God of the gaps in our knowledge is tenable. A world of completely explicable nature (even if we haven't quite nailed down the last few high-level explanations, and are debating bigger explanations of smaller things than anyone is truly worried about on a daily basis) is a world quickly running out of room for an aetiological deity, and running out of freedom for a sovereign deity. Or at least, for one bound involuntarily within a place in the system of things. Science is opposed to religion here -- and it should be, when such a religion is trying to share the same phenomenological explanatory niche.

Which is as it should be! Christianity is not such a religion, nor is Judaism, nor for that matter Islam, though Paul had no concern for it at the time. "The eternal power and divinity of God" has been undetectable since the creation of the cosmos. "And their eyes shall not perceive Him." But God acts! God reveals, this hidden God who is no less present and active and sovereign, not subordinate to the world, but free over and within it. (Note, not sovereign as in ruling in power, but as autonomous in capacity -- I like to stick with the Greek, and remember that dynamis is not for thumping.) The existence of things that are obscures our perception of things that are not, as well as the God who is superior to all of them. But God has made Godself clear to the understanding that trusts.

If we have knowledge of God which is not revealed by the things made, though it may retrospectively be seen in them by knowing God and looking at things, it is not therefore contrary to the ability of science or philosophy to explore those things. We must agree with the phenomena, as they appear, because we, too, cannot get ourselves past the phenomena. Only faith pursuing understanding comes to further explanations. To the extent that they contradict the phenomena, where we know that God has acted and does act and is concerned, we must still say that the phenomena are not wrong, just incompletely representative of the reality of the situation. Even the hard scientists know that what appears to be the case is not always the best functional explanation of what is actually the case.

Not, of course, that this is the point! Theologically-minded explanations of the world are not my job, whether they amplify or antagonize science. The point is quite other. The job we are failing to do is to value and praise this particular saving God as God. And where do we get the knowledge to do that? It is revealed by God in faith, and subsequently by our faith and to our faith. The natural, to whom God has not revealed Godself by any other means, is excused for not seeing this very particular God in the visible, created universe. Which has never been the point, considering that it involves us turning judgment outward upon others. Paul will turn this juridical parable against precisely that sort of behavior on our part! In the end, even if there is a point here about natural knowledge of God, it is an utterly subsidiary point in Paul's argument to and about the faithful and their faithlessness.


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