What does it mean for God to be “for” us?
James Alison writes:
Now here is the problem: if God is not a “being” in any normal sense of the word, not something that “is” within the order of everything that exists; if God is…much more like no-god-at-all than like one-of-the-gods, then in principle we have no reason at all to conceive of God as in any way either for, or against us. God really would be so much “other” than anything that we can imagine that there would be quite simply no hook, no criterion by which this other could have incidence in our world…
And of course, some people have tended to see the via negativa as making of God something indifferent. Indeed, I have read material by some who subscribe to the via negativa which has left me with a sense of horror: all that emphasis on unknowability can lead to the emotional correlate of a sense of lostness before a completely arbitrary other. Those, among whom I include myself, who strongly defend the via negativa as indispensable if we are to avoid idolatry, have a real task on our hands if we wish to defend both the utter otherness of God, and, yet, while holding onto that otherness, a sense of there being in, and as a non-arbitrary part of, that otherness, a “for” us.
It may be that a tiger in a game reserve in India is hunted down by the warden of the reserve and shot with a tranquilizer dart. This puts it to sleep so that it can be moved with comparative ease to another reserve where there is a better eco-system for its survival, and potential mates for its reproduction. As a member of the film crew accompanying this, you can see quite clearly that the whole exercise is for the benefit of this tiger in particular, and is being conducted by people who are in favour of the survival of tigers in general. All of this is entirely unavailable to the tiger, which can only relate to the unfolding events from within the framework of invincible tigritude. The tiger is quite unable to distinguish between wardens armed with tranquilizer darts and hunters armed with guns. No attempt by the warden to parlay with the tiger and explain why he was going to shoot a tranquilizer dart into it would have the slightest effect. When the exercise is finished, something has indeed happened for the tiger, but the tiger cannot talk about what happened being either for it or for tigers in general. For the tiger this was an arbitrary part of a kill-or-be-killed world in which, as it happened, it lived to prowl another day.
So when humans talk about the “for” in God we are actually saying that we are marginally different from the tigers, in that there has been some form of communication which does not totally pass us by; that there are some hooks in our cultural framework by which a “forness” which is entirely from outside our way of being, is able to be understood, and responded to, by us…
This piece is long and a little dense, but very worth the time to read slowly!