“The Experience of God” (Part 3)

So who is this God of whom David Bentley Hart wishes to speak?

God is “the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things” (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by “being” we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by “being” we wish to signify God as “the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation” (p. 30).

The theistic traditions agree that in his essential reality God lies beyond our finite comprehension. Consequently, “much of the language used of him is negative in form and has been reached only by a logical process of abstraction from those qualities of finite reality that make it insufficient to account for its own existence. All agree as well, however, that he can genuinely be known: that is, reasoned toward, intimately encountered, directly experienced with a fullness surpassing mere conceptual comprehension” (pp. 30-31).

The true and living God must therefore be clearly distinguished from the various gods with whom humanity has always dealt throughout history. The gods, if any exist, do not transcend nature; they belong to nature. “They exist in space and time,” explains Hart, “each of them is a distinct being rather than ‘being itself,’ and it is they who are dependent upon the universe for their existence rather than the reverse. Of such gods there may be an endless diversity, while of God there can be only one. Or, better, God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one” (p. 31).

The great blunder of much popular atheism, according to Hart, is its tendency to conceive of God as “some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact” (p. 32). In other words, it thinks of God as a demiurge, and thus its rejection of God simply misses the target.

To succeed as an atheist one must disbelieve not only in the gods but in God.

(Go to Part 4)

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