Fifty Years Later – Part 4

How does God Make Himself Known?

Almost 50 years ago I wrote a book entitled What to Believe?, subtitled The Questions of Christian Faith. Fortress Press had been looking for such a book, and so published it in 1974. Fifty years later, I thought it might be interesting to see how my thinking today has changed. Hence the title.
Question 4: How does God Make Himself Known?
Speaking of God as a “he” is pretty much in your face, but there are other distinctions to be made between the past and the present when speaking of how God makes God known. Traditional Christian theology speaks of natural revelation on the one hand, and special revelation on the other, the former being a sense of the divine that is a given in human nature and the world about us, while the latter is unique, occuring at a particular time and place to particular persons. Natural revelation is said to “pre-aquaint” us with God, who is then recognizable when something special happens. The problem with assuming and asserting that human beings can learn about God via nature is that we are prone to see what we want to see and make God into what we want God to be. This is the main lesson we learn from Feuerbach, Freud and Marx. Karl Barth was horror-stricken when he learned that his seminary professors had come out in support of the Kaiser. Theology in the 19th century had argued that God could be intuited from nature. What Barth saw was that the resulting intuition was basically a wish fulfillment, whereby the Germans, like everybody else, made God into what they wanted God to be. In taking up the battle, Barth argued that special revelation alone can lead us to know who God is. When God makes God’s self known, there is no mistaking Who is there, and wish fulfillment is not only not an option, it is exposed for what it is.

I understood the dangers of natural religion as warned by Feuerbach, and still share Barth’s horror at how we always create a mini-god who is on our side. But the problem with the Barthian approach is that if one is not inside the circle of the Christian faithful, how is it possible to speak of God at all? If God is known only in Jesus the Christ and all naturally occuring awareness of God is fraudulent, is there any positive basis for conversation? So my question became: what can be known naturally that does not lead to idolatry? And the answer was that what we sense naturally is not the presence of god, but the absence. Since we all create our own little egocentric world that is no longer connected to the world “out there”, we inevitably are aware that something is missing, and that something is Reality. We sense a Void. We search for meaning in life, and mostly come up with some temporary excitement, but no lasting framework for fulfillment.

That, however, is not the end of the story. There are moments that we all have in which we temporarily escape our egocentricity and relate directly to a Thou who stands before us. This Thou can be a sunset, a smile, a challenging word, a comforting word, an athletic experience- in other words, anything. Anything can become the occasion in which we are liberated from the confines of our self-created world, if only for a moment.

Looking at life this way, the old distinction between natural and special revelation seems more of a hindrance than a help. What we know naturally in our own experience, is that something is missing in our lives, and that on occasion, we become happy, fulfilled persons, -who again slip back into the searching mode. A question then arises: is there no continuity to my life? Is it a continual seesaw? The answer, I think, lies in community, which we will consider in a later section.

There is one more question. What is the role of Jesus in all this? Again, I constantly remind myself that I get my bearings from Jesus, and that you get your bearings wherever you get your bearings. From what I can deduce, the disciples of Jesus, about 25 men and women who stayed with him and those innumerable others who were changed by him, but moved on,- all these persons had their little worlds broken into, experienced Reality, and now knew a fulfilled life. This is what Jesus did for them. And he was able to do this because he himself was not egocentric and because he lived a continual moment. The real mystery about Jesus was not how he was both God and man, but how he was enabled to live a truly fulfilled human life and thereby show the light to others, who in turn became “woke”, to re-capture a good word maligned by Republican bigots. How is God made known? I think the answer is as simple as to take a hard look at both your ego and your moments, discover where they lead, find good friends, and listen to what they say.
Read the Series Here
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith,   The Void and the Vision and  The New Matrix: How the World We Live In Impacts Our Thinking About Self and God. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.

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