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June 07, 2006

Comments

Well said, Melinda. Thanks. That sentence is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Here's a list of things I never want to hear again:

1.) God told me...
2.) When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.
3.) Don't tell God how big your mountain is, tell your mountain how big your God is
4.) Sow a seed of faith in this ministry.
5.) God can do new things.
6.) I feel led to...
7.) When you don't believe in yourself, God believes in you.
8.) I feel the anointing.
9.) God is dead (Nietzsche). Nietzsche is dead (God).
10.) Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.
11.) God responds to kneemail.
12.) I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.

Now, I won't argue that these things are all false...but I do think they are all not worth saying.

This phrase has always struck me as self-defeating. The person who doesn't want to put God in a "box" is ostensibly aruging against exclusionary statements about God. But isn't the statement, "Don't put God in a box," itself an exclusionary statement about God? Melinda does a great job of presenting the true character of this statement. Another meaning might be, "Don't assign any parameters to God--except for the parameter that God cannot be parameterized."

Is it self-defeating or perhaps is it trying to point to something else? One way that I understand it is that God cannot be defined; every categorization we can attribute to him (or even that he may attribute to himself) will always fall short due to his transcendence and the finite nature of categories.

Thank you very much for articulating this point so clearly, Melinda. It is something I've wanted to write on my own blog for a long time but just never got around to it.

There was a recent discussion on the A-Team blog on this subject. One of the commentators, instead of saying "You can't put God in a box," was saying that God is not subject to categorization, which basically amounts to the same thing. I think Mike is right, and they are both self-refuting.

Kevin,

If you think that God is the being to which none of our concepts apply, then this too is self-defeating. This point has been made by Plantinga in Warranted Christian Belief. For if we say that God is the being to which none of our concepts apply, then in this very affirmation we are applying a concept to God, namely that God is the being to which none of our concepts apply to. Perhaps this would be cashed out in terms of transcendence or ineffability. Regardless, however, it remains the case that affirming that God is the being to which none of our beliefs apply is self-defeating, for that is a belief about God.

Hasn't anyone here read J.B. Phillip's classic, "Your God Is Too Small"? That is where I first heard this phrase, and it is apt for what it says.

See:

http://www.newchurches.com/public/resources/reading/docs/YourGodisTooSmall-Phillips.pdf

for an e-text version of the book.

Nice article. I would state this in response. Simply because a statement is abused, or overused, the statement should not be disregarded as never appropriate. There are some boxes God breaks, and perhaps some in which He fits.

Henry,

Does that follow? Is the denying of a concept likewise a concept? I am claiming that God exceeds any given positive affirmation that may be attributed to him. Does my claim apply to this "positive affirmation," can the statement affirm itself? Most surely, as the statement itself implies a limited understanding of "concepts" and, hence, is finite and can be exceeded by a greater understanding. But in every case, by virtue of the finite nature of concepts/reasons, the greater understanding will always fall short.

Now, for a small but quite important correction, I am *not* saying that "none of our beliefs apply" to God, merely that he will always exceed them. I may say, "God is just," and this does indeed apply to him, but by virtue of it being a rationalistic concept, it falls short in describing God. The most facile difference would be my own limited understanding of "justice" which I sure hope God exceeds, but the more profound difference would be that God is a person, not a thing. It is treating God like a thing--something that can be exhaustively described through (analytically necessary) propositions--that puts him in a box, and a small one at that.

This view, of course, has a long and venerable tradition within Christian thought.

Kevin,

I affirm that God exceeds at least most of our concepts. And I suppose this is within the Thomistic conception of language about God. I deny, however, that none of our concepts apply to God (but it looks like you do to). And yet, I would say affirming that none of our concepts apply to God is applying a concept to God.

But you must admit that the language of God in a box is used too much. I suggest we change our metaphor to handcuffs, or a prison, or house arrest. But I doubt very seriously that any of these will be intended to communicate anything intelligent by most that use them. Usually people that employ this sort of cliche don't intend to talk about the equivocal/univocal/analogical conception of language of God. I think the smartest thing to say in response to "Don't put God in a box" is "I won't, but do you think God responds to email?"

The first comment post reminds me of every church with the sign out front. I saw one once that said, "How did Jesus teach without power point and lights? Very well!"

Henry,

Yes, it probably is used too much, but my issue with it is as a slogan as opposed to as an objection (which I obviously agree with...to some degree :o) ). Once something becomes a slogan it loses meaning and when it loses meaning no one takes it seriously, no one tries to look closer at what it is trying to say because, hey, *everyone* already knows what it means. Insofar as its status as a slogan moves us away from serious thought on what it is saying, yes, it is used too much.

Recently I have been responding with,"Don't put God in a box".
This religiously incorrect euphimism in my case,anyways, evolved from years of spiritual yearnings, to Godly spiritual enlightenment. I have studied various religions as I dared to step outside my religious 'box'. This sojourn was an effort to know OUR GOD who has worked in various ways within the history of ALL mankind. Religions have tried to define GOD by their creeds and doctrines and ALL claim to be the correct expression of GOD. It is this exclusivity, defined by dogmas that lead to PRIDE,EXTREMISM and in its most perverse form, HATRED towards men that lead to Satan's 'Holy War'!
See it for what it is. GOD HIMSELF defined SIN when he handed the Ten Commandments to Moses.
GOD HIMSELF provided THE WAY and THE TRUTH that leads to eternal life with HIM through the atoning work of HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST when HE died on the Cross for all of us!
The only thing that GOD asked of us is to believe in what HIS SON did for us on the Cross. Only Jesus's Blood is sufficient to bring Redemption to all mankind. Therefore, to shed another man's blood in GOD's Name is blasphemy!
STOP THE BLOODSHED, STOP THE UNHOLY WARS, STOP THE RELIGIOUS TRAPPINGS THAT LEAD TO SEPERATION AND EXTREMISM.

LISTEN TO GOD HIMSELF AS HE SPEAKS TO ALL OF HIS CHILDREN......

"AS THE FATHER LOVED ME, I ALSO HAVE LOVED YOU; ABIDE IN MY LOVE."
" A NEW COMMANDMENT I GIVE TO YOU, THAT YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER; AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, THAT YOU ALSO LOVE ONE ANOTHER." JOHN 13:34

So, again I say, Don't put GOD in a box! GOD IS LOVE and he who abides in love abides in GOD and GOD in him! Break down the box of exclusivity and let us unite as one in CHRIST, by loving all mankind.

Linda,

What precisely do you think it means to put God in a box? Do you know of some common cases of people putting God in a box?

Linda,

I'm a little confused by your post. When you say that God "worked in various ways within the history of ALL mankind," and that "creeds and doctrine" pride, extremism, and hatred, I get the impression that you're advocating some kind of pluralism.

But then on the other hand when you say things like "GOD HIMSELF defined SIN when he handed the Ten Commandments to Moses," and when you say that Jesus is the way God provided for eternal life through his atoning work, you seem to be advocating some kind of exclusivism.

You seem, on the one hand, to believe that there are definite things that are true about God and Jesus, but you say on the other hand not to put God in a box.

And that's another thing that confuses me about your post. On the one hand you call "Don't put God in a box" a "religiously incorrect euphemism," but on the other hand, you advocate not putting God in a box yourself.

Sam

I will not pretend to speak for Linda, but I do have a question which at least points to what she is trying to say: can and has God inspired, say, Buddhists or Buddhism?

To be clear, this is not asking whether Buddhism is *as* true as Christianity (though that claim would have to be examined later); it is not a question of comparison. It is, rather, the simple question: does God inspire non-Christians and could he inspire them in their religions without fully disclosing the gospel among them?

"To be clear, this is not asking whether Buddhism is *as* true as Christianity (though that claim would have to be examined later); it is not a question of comparison. It is, rather, the simple question: does God inspire non-Christians and could he inspire them in their religions without fully disclosing the gospel among them?"

Is it not true that in Buddhist thought, there is no continuity of the person as the same person? To whom then would God be addressing himself

Also, any other "gospel" or message that does not specifically mention Christ is no Gospel at all. The mustery once hidden has now been revealed. There are no other people of God in the redemptive sense...only Christians.

Kevin,

I don't know if I would use the language "God inspired them", but I would say that it is certainly possible for non-Christians to hold correct views about religion and morality. Muslims believe there is only one God. Most people (including non-Christians) have an intuition/belief that certain actions are wrong/immoral. These are true beliefs. Satan knows that people aren't going to swallow a total lie. The reason he is successful is that he mixes enough truth in with the lie to make it attractive.

Paul

Hi Linda,

You said: "It is this exclusivity, defined by dogmas that lead to PRIDE, EXTREMISM". Do you believe your view is the correct one (about God)? If so, isn't this a "dogma" that excludes those that disagree with you?

Later, you said, "Break down the box of exclusivity and let us unite as one in CHRIST". Again, there are many that would find this statement itself to be exclusive, simply because you advocate unity in *Christ*.

Perhaps you could post again and help us understand your view. :)

Thanks,
Paul

Paul,

Let me rephrase my question, then: is it possible that God inspired some of the philosophical views of Buddhism--say their anthropology, as one example--while Christians have traditionally gotten it wrong given their neo-Aristotelian/Augustinian allegiances? In other words, is it possible that Christians have more 'divine truth' to learn from Buddhists than is typically admitted?

Kevin - I have said this same thing before. The point I have made is with regards to the Buddha's central "enlightenment" - that "all is suffering." This is more true than Christians sometimes like to admit - in fact is completely true if we assume "all" means "all natural things." All natural things are suffering because of the influence of sin.

Gautama Siddhartha's saying breaks down, of course, where God is concerned. If the Buddha has thought out his insight one more step he might have come to true enlightenment. The concept of "suffering" makes no sense unless we have something to compare it to - that which is not suffering, God. Otherwise, all is not suffering - it just is, and he'd have no warrant to say that escape from existence is truly good. What would "good" mean unless there is something to compare it against?

Re: "You Can't Put God in a Box":

I wrote a section in my book about the comment "you can't put God in a box," because that was the frstrating pat answer I received every time I questioned a leaders' departure from Biblical teaching. Don't worry about the teaching, they would say, because you can't put God in a box. A churchwarden even told me that God may sovereignly choose to bless wrong teaching. Now, why would a God of Truth choose to bless wrong teaching?

I believe we can put God in a box: rather, He has put Himself in a box. There is one place where He expects us to look for Him, and one place we can always find Him, no surprises: in the truth. The psalmist said, "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). God is a God of truth, and He cannot lie. He is not a spirit of false doctrine, so we know that the spirit behind any teacher of false doctrine is not of God.

If we do not believe God honours His own truth, then we are in effect calling Him a liar. If He was not faithful to truth, how could He judge us for unfaithfulness, or falsehood?

To anyone who says, "you can't put God in a box," I would say that God is always faithful to His truth. We must remember the warning of the apostle John (2John 9) that whoever transgresses and does not abide in thedoctrine of Christ does not have God.

Please go to my Web site for more information about the book True to His Ways: Purity & Safety in Christian Spiritual Practice.

Here's a thought: if God is in a box and He's the Creator of all things, then didn't He CREATE the box in which he resides?

"Putting God in a box" is a phrase WE created to warn people against creating our OWN comfortable religious existance...that is, don't work out your own salvation in your own way but to only work out your salvation in the way THE CREATOR provided.

If God is truly in a box...which I believe He isn't...then it's a SELF-CREATED box he chooses to exist in and we are not to question what's inside that box because we cannot comprehend it. We only know what's outside that box and that is EXACTLY what HE wants us to know.

Bill H.

p.s. He may let us in on the secret to what's inside the box in the after-life.

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