Christianity and Paradox: Critical Studies in Twentieth- Century Theology

By Ronald W. Hepburn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
COPING WITH PARADOX

G OD, says the theologian, acts in the world, but does not have his being in the world. He has personal and moral attributes, yet without the features, the voice, the conflicts of choice, the triumphs and failures that go with these in our experience. As outside space and time, he can indeed be no object of experience at all, and yet he is most intimately 'near', the hearer of prayer. He is One God, and yet he is Three. Such paradoxical and near- paradoxical language is the staple of accounts of God's nature and is not confined to rhetorical extravaganzas. To Augustine, God was 'good without quality, great without quantity, a creator though he lack nothing, ruling but from no position, eternal yet not in time'.1

'Paradox', the sceptical philosopher protests, 'is too optimistic and too solemn a word for all this. It would be more honest to call it a language of contradiction, one which can therefore delineate no possible being at all. What sense the right hand puts forward, the left hand whips away again.' It looks as if here the tension between philosopher and theologian is at its maximum.

And yet, 'tension' is not always the right word: for what frustrates and baffles the therapeutically minded philosopher is when the theologian calmly admits that all these contradictions, incompatible claims, are there in his writing, just as the philosopher says. He has known they were there and has no intention of abandoning his theology because of their presence. They arise, he explains (and this is often his last word), from the nature of

____________________
1
Augustine, De Trinitate.

-16-

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