April 6, 2011
Three Ways of Asking the God-Question
Here is an interesting breakdown of three different ways of asking “God-questions” from a David Kelsey lecture at Princeton last Tuesday (reported in Der Evangelische Theologe):
- The question of cosmological contingency: Aquinas, for instance, raises the God-question by reflection upon the contingency of the cosmos. How does God go about relating to the cosmos so that the cosmos is sustained in its contingency upon God? The God-question here is a cosmological question, and is often connected to the doctrine of providence.
- The question of existential anxiety: Luther raises the God-question with reference to anxiety produced by uncertainty about his salvation. This approach accepts God’s love as real but does not trust it – or at least has trouble trusting it – because that love is always hidden. God’s self-revelation seems to contradict God’s love because that love is revealed in the horror of the cross. Here the God-question is primarily an existential question.
- The question of ontological verificationn: modernity raises the God-question with reference to concerns as to whether or not God exists. Playing into this way of posing the question is the enlightenment, science, secularism, hermeneutics of suspicion, horror of modern war, etc. The first two approaches arose for people who assumed God’s reality, whereas this one does not. (nb: these three points are direct quotes from Der Evangelische Theologe. I added the titles)
If you think about it, these God-questions are right at the heart of many hot-button controversies today.
- Cosmological contingency: How does God run the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are there tsunami’s? Is he really doing anything? Is he really all-powerful and all loving?
- Existential anxiety: The search for the experience of God’s love has got to be one of the greatest themes of evangelical Christianity, not to mention other spiritualities. “I don’t feel like God is near” “I’m not sure God loves me” “I feel like God is judging me” are the refrains of this quest. Much of popular Christian music (including worship) and literature is crafted to answer this existential question: How can I experience God and be sure of his acceptance?
- Ontological verification: In the last 10 years the question of God’s existence has become more and present, to the point of bus sign wars, public debates and large popular level atheistic rallies; not to mention book sales! Kelsey made a very interesting point about this third type of question: you can’t really address it alone. You have to consider the other two in order to make sense of it. In fact, I think that the two other types of questions are what invest us in the third one. Perhaps it is in those first two that we are oriented to the third one.
Interested in your thoughts on this.