C.S. Lewis, Uncertainty and the Doctrine of God

This is my second post concerning uncertainty. Why is uncertainty so interesting to me? For starters, I think this is largely the case because of my formal training is rooted in a tradition that has theology so well defined it almost feels scandalous that I even allow certain questions. Yet, here I find myself asking about the essence of knowledge and certainty, especially concerning things of higher theology like the doctrine of God, also called Theology Proper. I know turn to a favorite author of mine, C.S. Lewis. Lewis has been a wonderful mentor to me (not that I’ve actually met him, but that I do learn from him quite often).

**On an aside, that is one reason why I enjoy reading “old books” (a Lewis phrase). When I read Lewis (which I do quite regularly), NT Wright, JC Ryle (a 19th century brother in Christ) or any other other repeatedly, they become a mentor. And, what’s rather interesting about these individuals who are no longer living today, orthodox Christian theology believes they are quite alive now (Jn. 11:26), and will be raised bodily when Christ returns (Dan. 12; 1 Cor. 15). In other words, learning from them is quite natural as they are quite alive in Jesus.  Here is Lewis’ advice. Lewis said, “It’s a good rule after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”**

The subject matter here is Theology Proper, or the doctrine of God. I mentioned in my previous post the inability for the finite to know the infinite. Well, God is absolutely infinite. This is rather explicit all throughout Scripture, so I believe there is no need to really say more than that. So, if God is infinite, what can we know about God?

A good bit, actually. Now, if you’re thinking “why did he say ‘a good bit’ when the post is about uncertainty?”, allow me to explain. I would be quite incorrect if I were to say, “Well, quite little.” Why? God revealed himself to us. We have his words describing who He is, and what He is like. Yet, the Bible does not tell us everything about God, nor does God reveal everything about himself. We are left with questions and holes in our understanding of His divine, holy nature. Not shocking, right?

What does Lewis have to do with anything? In his essay “Dogma and the Universe” he writes, “We are in no position to draw up maps of God’s psychology, and prescribe limits to His interests. We would not do so even for a man whom we knew tt be greater than ourselves. The doctrines that God is love and that He delights in men, are positive doctrines, not limiting doctrines. He is not less than this. What more He may be, we do not know; we know only that He must be more than we can conceive.” (emphasis added) Well said, Lewis! God is holy. God is love. God is Creator. God is beyond human comprehension and definition. To define something is to prescribe limits on something. God cannot limited, right?

To say what Lewis said is not to limit or lessen the doctrine of God theologically. I’d argue quite the opposite. What Scripture says about God is factual and real. When Scripture says that God is holy and blameless, than we know God does not do wrong. So, Scripture positively describes God’s holiness so that we can rightly understand He is holy. This is true even when events don’t go the way we want or expect. Why God does this or that is beyond our understanding. Yet, provided we remember that what God does is Holy, all the time because Holy is the Lord (Isa. 6), then we are freed from having all the answers and feeling as if we need to know. We do not need to know, nor shall we. And that is okay. We are allowed to be creatures of the Creator.

It took me a little while to realize I was a creature, one from the dust (Ecc. 3). My presumed knowledge of God after graduating seminary left me overly dogmatic, and overly arrogant. If you didn’t know what I knew, you just didn’t know God, nor your Bible. Yet, years have passed since graduated the ivory halls of theological academia, and the dogmatism is gradually weakening. This doesn’t mean my convictions are changing (not all of them at least). It does mean what I was so incredibly sure about then, I’m less positive about now. That is a good thing. Uncertainty brings about humility. Paul said it best, “knowledge puffs up, love builds up” (1 Cor. 13). Certainty puffs up, uncertainty coupled with love builds up.

What we do know for certain about God, namely that which Scripture reveals, is grounds for eternal worship and adoration. The same is true for what we are uncertain about. The mystery surrounding the Divine leaves us with a proper sense of  awe and wonder, which also have the potential to create worship and adoration.

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