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Mind blowing

“I will cause all My goodness to pass before you,” the LORD replied, “and I will proclaim My name—the LORD—in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” But He added,“You cannot see My face, for no-one can see Me and live.” Exodus 33. 19-20

Philosopher Ian T Ramsey is interested in the use of qualifiers and models in religious language. Qualifiers are the adverbs we use to enhance the adjectives we apply to God. For example we don't just refer to God as being "powerful" but as being "all-powerful". The significance of this is not simply to assert that God is more powerful than we are but to stress that he is in a different league of powerfulness altogether.

Likewise when it comes to models. It's not simply that we appeal to a simile or metaphor to express what we believe God is like. Rather we use a model to suggest something of the paradoxical nature of God's uniqueness, that he cannot be contained by our efforts to reduce everything to fit into a scientific mould, so that it can be objectively observed. An example might be our reference to God as "Father" which, given he created humankind in his image as male and female, gives a partial and consequently misleading impression - unless one recognises that it is in its suggestiveness of the greater reality of who God really is that the image of fatherhood can be applied to God.

This led Ramsey to distinguish between two types of mystery: one represents those aspects of reality that we do not currently understand but we expect that one day we shall; the other he called "permanent mystery" and features those rare situations where the mystery must remain forever because it is not in our gift ever to plumb its depths - such as the Trinity, the atonement, the face of God. These mysteries are there to be embraced and celebrated, not explained away.



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