Many of the Church Fathers termed a process “Apophatic” Theology. Apophatic is a negated speech of God. It was seen in the process of coming to a deeper understanding of God, principally by denying all of your comfortable certitudes about God.
As children, we have very concrete images of God. We let go of them with age. That is normal. If we are serious in our endeavor to understand God in faith, we have to let go of our childhood faith in order to have an adult faith. We can move past the milk to the solid food as Saint Paul says.
It appears to be a dangerous endeavor, and I think many people would rather not have instant answers. Some people want to have the comfort of not having to struggle in the darkness to find God.
Moses encountered the Lord in the wilderness, after having singularly fled Egypt. It was in this darkness that God manifest. Elijah as well, imagining that he pinpointed God in the storms, whirlwinds and thunders, and God manifest in the quiet. The entire Hebrew tradition is wrought with this wonder at divine majesty, that even today, out of reverence, Jews dare not utter the sacred name G-d.
Christians had inherited this. Christians had appropriated it. In many of the instances the Bishops articulated something concise in order to draw a boundary when somebody preached a heresy that took the tradition out of balance, or out of the inherited tradition entirely.
It is not as if most of the heretics woke up one day and decided to wreak havoc on the doctrine of the Church. They probably believed that they had God down in a laboratory. What made it so problematic was that many heretics persisted in their heresy.
But so it is when we encounter someone agnostic whose wandered off with only their speculations. We presume that they have some kind of mal-intent to ruin the tradition. Maybe they are doing apophatic theology and don’t know it. Maybe that is the pilgrimage that God is guiding them on. Maybe you were there too, and God had to take you through it to get you there.
Of course, the Church Fathers do not believe that Agnosticism is the finality or the climax. While we say that God is love, soon we get confused. We hear the word love thrown around like an old dirty tennisball. We wonder if God really loves us in all our messiness. We wonder if God really even cares, like he hasn’t sent a birthday card in a while. So we can definitely and accurately say that God is not love. The way love is defined, understood, and practiced in our day and age, tainted by lust and jealousy and greed, its really hard to understand what love is, or what we mean by God is love.
Our pilgrimage takes us to something even more spectacular, when we have some kind of solid faith that God is love in such an excellent and magnificent way that words fail. It is like an ascent. We make a positive statement of God, then a negative statement about God, then another positive statement enriched by our awe-inspired reverence for God’s glory, because our love moves us to at least say something.
Of course, some agnostics I have met are just more comfortable not committing to anything, floating along from one experience to another, afraid that should they delve too deeply and sincerely into one thing, their discovery will radically overturn their comfort, and compel them into a dangerous and lovely adventure. It could be that many agnostics are on a sincere pilgrimage, and haven’t gotten to the point where they can again confidently make assertions on God.
Obviously, as faith is a gift from God, so this leap from Apophatic or negative theology requires some sort of divine intervention. God indeed would have to speak. I believe that God did speak quite precisely and definitively in the Word, who is God, who is Incarnate in flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to humankind. Jesus invites us on a dangerous and lovely adventure.
It always evokes in me, a sense that sometimes I need to be hushed in reverent silence before the Glorious Majesty of the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth.