I’ve already reviewed Matthew Lee Anderson’s excellent little book, The End of Our Exploring at Christ and Pop Culture. One of my favorite sections in the work is his critique of clichés in Christian discourse. CThey stop thought, end discussion, and function as a short-cuts to truth that prevent us from actually engaging with the difficult questions involved with God and life.
In the midst of this discussion, he manages to dispatch one particular cliché that, whenever I encounter it, something in me dies just a little:
One of my “favorite” clichés is that we “shouldn’t put God in a box.” That may be true on one level. But what if God has put Himself in a box, like a Scripture-shaped box? What then? Is the problem the box or the shape? If it was a circle-box that were infinitely large, could God fit inside of it? What if we have to be able to say this and not that of something in order to know it? If we say “God doesn’t judge,” does that put God in a box? (Yes, I just dropped one cliché against the other.) If God isn’t in a box, even a Jesus-shaped box, can we know Him? Does God know He lacks a box? Is He able to communicate to His creatures the shape of a box He could fit in? I think the cliché means something like “God is ineffable,” a beautiful word that simply means “beyond speech.” But does God have a language for His own ineffability? Can He teach it to us? That is a barrage of questions, I realize, but they come like a flood every time I hear someone say not to “put God in a box.” I don’t know the answers, but I do know that the cliché short-circuits the process of finding them. The cliché is of the soul-shrinking, mind-denying variety.
–The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith, pg. 130
What if God has put himself in a ‘box’ indeed? What if the unknown and unknowable God wants to be known and does something about it like engaging with a particular people throughout history? Maybe he reveals his character through great and mighty acts? Or becomes incarnate and walks among us? Or maybe he does all of those things and has the whole thing written up in Text so that we could know something about him? Is it arrogant to take him at his word? Is it presumptious to say God is X, if God has told us he is X? More importantly, is it presumptious to say, even with the intention of being humble, that we can’t know that God is X, if he has told us he is?
I’m all for proclaiming God’s incomprehensibility and the necessary gap in our knowledge of God. Still, these are some questions to think about before you too quickly complain about putting God in a box–it might be one he chose for himself.
Also, go buy the book.
Soli Deo Gloria