Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Neither Can They be Uttered by Man

Today in my Doctrines of the Gospel class, Professor Top was expounding to us the nature of the Godhead. As most readers of this blog will know, the Latter-day Saint notion of God's corporeal nature differs from that of most other modern Christian denomination. We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three distinct beings, but fully united in purpose. As a married couple is, or as disciples of Christ should be, so the three members of the Godhead are one.

In the conversation, the subject of pre-mortal Christ came up, with the question, "Was he fully God?" The question seemed a strange one to me. Fully God? What does that even mean?

I think too often we get bogged down, and even contentious concerning points of doctrine, when what is really at fault is our language. It's a matter I've given some thought to, both as a full time proselytizing missionary from the summer of 2002 to 2004, and as a student of communications, or the practice of conveying meaning from one or more parties to other(s). Mortal language, while incalculably useful for virtually everything men endeaver, turns out not to be so adept at describing the celestial. It is an entirely different realm, a whole other world. It's like attempting advanced quantitative calculations without the use of numbers, like trying to model the mysteries of quantum mechanics with billiard balls, like expressing the sensation of taste to somebody born without a tongue. It's mostly fruitless. We are simply at a loss to describe with our language those things that we've never experienced.

The feat is so difficult that it takes the greatest of word smiths to have any success. One approach is to be extremely specific in what you refer to. This has several dangers. First, you will most assuredly offend somebody as soon as you take a firm stance anywhere beyond the defined boundaries. Too bad for them, you might think. But then again, they may have a point in questioning you when you are so far out of the given way. What are you doing all the way out on the theological frills, anyhow? Who cares what the the average body temperature of a resurrected being is? Therein lies the danger of specificity.

The other approach, and the only feasible attempt and even minimally potent approach that I can think of, is through analogy and metaphor. Somebody like C.S. Lewis may be a good example.

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else..." -Is Theology Poetry? (1945)
Another adroit descriptor of heavenly things was Neal A. Maxwell.

"Those who believe for a while make only a brief tour in the kingdom, though thereafter they often feel qualified to inform those who know even less about the Church; but the fact is they were really only tourists - not natives who really knew the kingdom's countryside." True Believers in Christ” p. 135
Language is such a determining factor on how we think and perceive that it is probably the source of many false notions and doctrines. Too bad.

The scriptures themselves state that there are some things that can't be spoken. The Spirit seems to have some vastly superior method of communication. How that works is beyond my understanding. But I won't worry too much about that.

"We should not assume...that just because something is unexplainable by us, it is unexplainable." -Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, page 124

1 comment:

Angela said...

I like that last quote from Elder Maxwell. Hadn't heard that one before.