God as Gift

Light of truth

Nietzsche’s madman declared not only that God is dead but the Churches are now ‘tombs and sepulchres of God.’ The speculative impossibility of demonstrating God’s existence and the fact at least in the West that God is no longer widely believed compels a rethinking on the Divine. The cultural decay of the idea of God spells the decline of the only kind of being God has ever enjoyed. There is a flight into the ungraspable, into the inconceivable, as antipathy towards every form all that is custom, institution, Church spreads. It is generally accepted to look for new ways of founding the faith. In the last decades there were even talk of a “theological turn” in phenomenology. What is novel in phenomenology is that it answers questions about God, not from any pre-given dogmatic concept of God, but beginning with experience of everyday life. A phenomenon is that which appears.

For Christian theology Christ’s Revelation is given as an event that appears within nature and history. For theology God always seeks to make God known in the world of human experience. Thus, the statement of Revelation in theology cannot avoid the basic questions of phenomenology. In his works French thinker Marion carefully stresses the distinction he makes between revelation and Revelation. The fact of Revelation exceeds the scope of all science, including phenomenology. The phenomena cannot be experienced according to the logic of everyday objects, but only according to the logic of the gift. The thought of God is also the thought of the gift. “God can give Himself to be thought without idolatry only starting from Himself alone; to give Himself to thought as love, hence as gift; to give Himself to thought as a thought of the gift” wrote Marion. The crisis of philosophy and theology in late modern societies is entwined with the problem of metaphysics. How can one treat at the same time common being (no being in particular) and the being par excellence (a supremely particular being)?

Givenness is neither object, nor is it appearance, nor is it even being, but something beyond all of these. Givenness lacks of definition results from the fact that it defines all other phenomenological acts. For Marion, there are four modes of saturated givenness, which he calls the event, the idol, the flesh, the icon and encompassing all of them, Revelation. “Every being is being-given.” That means that one has to extend the status of a beyond of beingness to every being-given. As being given the phenomenon itself does not have a “why.” Givenness can arise only once causality has been radically surpassed. Being-given does not assume the figure of the giver but the being-given par excellence. “God” is given more than any other being-given. ‘God’ is given absolutely. ‘God’ is found given without reserve or restraint.” “God” becomes invisible not in spite of givenness but by virtue of givenness. The “gift” has become the word used to characterize the possibility, the impossibility of experiencing God. “Everything that is given to us in perception, is finally a gift to a finite creature, and it is finally a gift of God.” No language can articulate or describe the “experience of God” without turning the very experience into an idea or concept governed by the logic of language. To say the unsayable, to think the unthinkable, to make possible what remains impossible. “God” is a double impossibility, because we cannot legitimately assign any concept to God, since every concept, by implying delimitation and comprehension, would contradict God’s sole definition, namely that God transcends all delimitation and therefore all definitions. This impossibility makes God “possible”: God begins where the possible for us ends, where what human reason comprehends as possible for it comes to a halt, at the precise limit where our thought can no longer advance, or see, or speak – where the inaccessible domain of the impossible bursts open.”

The impossibility of God turns out to be possible only for us and not for God. The impossibility of impossibility for God remains inaccessible for us. It teaches us nothing about God. Incomprehensibility is the distinct hallmark of God’s difference with regard to humanity. The impossibility of God here must not be contributed to God’s omnipotence, but a manifestation of God’s fidelity.

The Biblical word that God is love (1 John 4:16) means that God is not a being, nor is God ‘being.’ We as creatures are analogously related to God existentially. God transcends us, but is also immanent. This is articulated in the concept of analogy. Like the artist who leaves a trace in his work efficiently executed, so too does God the Creator leave a trace in us as His creatures.

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