We’re reviewing Rob Bell’s new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (See Part 1: Chapters 1 & 2)
Chapter 3 “Both” (pg. 81-96)
After exploring the universe that we live in, Bell now turns to “how we talk when we talk about God.” Considering that we are speaking of a God who is infinite and transcendent, Bell is critical of speaking of God with too much certainty. On the other hand, he is also critical of those who simply throw up their arms and claim there is nothing that we can really know about God. Following this, Bell contrasts the notion of knowing God as the assembly of facts about God, over against a kind of knowledge that transcends even the language that we use to describe him. “So when we talk about God we’re using language, language that employs a vast array of words and phrases and forms to describe a reality that is fundamentally beyond words and phrases and forms.” (pg. 87) Every metaphor, every image, every word, every dogma, and every doctrine can point to God, but is not God.
The next move Bell makes is to introduce paradox (hence the chapter title: “Both”) and abandon some of the either/or categories. Faith and doubt are not either/or. Like religion and science from the previous chapter, they are “dancing partners.” Conviction and humility are not either/or. He finishes up this chapter with what I esteem to be soft-postmodern sensibilities about how we always have to have a certain amount of agnosticism regarding what we “know”… and be able to confess, “I could be wrong…” But at the same time, “You can believe something with so much conviction that you’d die for that belief.” (pg. 93)
sidenote: It’s seems to me that Bell is NOT embracing Far-East “both/and” systems of logic here, but is instead, pointing us this understanding that some things that could seem to be opposites (faith and doubt – conviction and humility) are in fact complimentary realities.
Chapter 4 “With” (pg. 97-126)
This gets us to what, I think, Bell really wants to get at in this book, I saw the previous chapters as an attempt to clear some ground and provide some context for what he’s about say with, “With” “For” and “Ahead.”
“With” is an affirmation of the omnipresence of God, but it’s more than that. Bell wants us to wake up to the presence of God. God is not only present, but intimately involved in creation – the highs the lows, the good, the bad and the ugly… What is He doing? “We’ll get to that” :)
Again, in poetic Bell-fashion going on about essence, energy, and cosmic electricity, he introduces the ancient Jewish concept of the “ruach” (life/spirit/breath) of God, and how it permeates and sustains all of creation. Clearly, he’s not referring to pantheism, he makes that clear with, “(It’s important to note that the Hebrews were careful not to say that God is the flower or sunset… they didn’t say God is creation, because they understood that in giving life to everything, God also gives freedom to be whatever it’s going to be, with all the possibilites and potentials for good and bad and beauty and chaos and love and loss that that freedom might lead to.)” This entire quote is in parenthesis, and suspect it’s an addition by the editors/collaborators to ward off the blogger-nazis from crying out “PANTHEIST!”
Not only is God “with” us, we need to be aware of it. We need to slow down and notice and feel… “Kavod” (pg. 112) Feeling the ‘weight’ of our situations – significance of everything therein. Not that everything is equally important but there is always something going on in everything and we need to “Pay attention” (pg. 114) God is in those moments.
Bell wants us to ‘see’… “what our experiences of God do at the most primal level of consciousness is jolt us into the affirmation that whatever this is, it matters.” (pg. 110) and “…we have an intuitive awareness that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, and I believe that is one more clue to who it is we’re talking about when we talk about God.” (pg. 116) and “…we’re talking about the very straightforward affirmation that everything has a singular, common source and is infinitely, endlessly, deeply connected.” (pg. 118) and “…that sense that you have – however stifled, faint, or repressed it is – that hope is real, that things are headed somewhere, and that that somewhere is good.” (pg. 121) (Love Wins, anyone?)
He closes this chapter with one of my favorite moments of the book with, “everyone has faith.” Whether it’s God or gods or “I believe in science” (think Nacho Libre), we’re all doing faith. We’re all taking that ‘leap of faith’ over the chasm between our finitude and an infinitely deep and complex reality.