May 9, 2009 by

I Can’t Help It…I Have to Try and Make Your Brain Ache


Categories: food for thought, Things that make our brains hurt

So…deal with this…

Entry #264 from the Official Collection of Proverbs and Random Thoughts from Jeff the Twisted, Slightly Off-Center Philosopher:

God cannot be defined, but only described.

Think. Ponder. Grapple. Evaluate. Take painkiller.
True? Or not?

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

12 Responses to I Can’t Help It…I Have to Try and Make Your Brain Ache

  1. Sarah

    Good one! In the west, we’re obsessed with definitions and explanations aren’t we? It gives us a sense of control I guess… God must be amused! 😛

  2. Aaroneous


    As I was driving around delivering pizza last night, I was thinking about entry #264. I agree with co heir. We certainly can’t define God, and I think we even struggle to describe Him.

    It reminds me of the story of 4 blind men arguing about what an elephant looks like. One touches the leg and says it is like a tree. Another touches the tail, and says a rope, etc…

    Of course with, God the problem is infinitely compounded. Describe God? (Using the elephant analogy)

    Well, he’s big, grey, has four legs, two big ears, a trunk, two eyes, and eats vegetation.

    What else?

    He has a 4 chambered heart, liver, kidneys, etc.

    What else?

    Each organ is made of millions of cells. Those cells have mitochondria, RNA, DNA, ribosomes, etc.


    Those cells are made up of trillions of molecules. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates. There’s lots of minerals in there that are required for the cells to functions. You gotta have Calcium, Potassium, etc.

    I want to know more…

    Those molecules are made of gazillions of atoms.

    What else?

    Those atoms are made of bajillions of nucleuseses, protons, neutrons, etc.

    My point is, if you REALLY wanted to describe an elephant, you could go on and on and on.

    Of course, God is infinite, so we’re pretty much hosed when we try to describe the inner workings of Him. I wonder if we’ve really even gotten past the “He’s grey and has four legs” level in our understanding.

  3. Jeff McQ

    Thanks, all, for your thoughts (and if you’re just joining us, feel free to chime in!).

    I got to thinking about this while reading/reviewing “ReJesus”, thinking about the ways we form a picture of Jesus in our own minds that doesn’t really capture who He is…and how the book debunks some of those images, but doesn’t really replace them with an “accurate” one…only a general description of Him from Scripture.

    The thing is, once you’ve defined something, you’ve set clear boundaries around it as to what it is, and isn’t. Since God is infinite, it’s impossible for our finite minds to set such a boundary around Him…and the moment we think we’ve done so, we’ve created an incomplete picture of God in our image. And as Sarah suggests…we feel control over what we can define.

    Co-heir and Aaroneous talk about the difficulty in describing God as well; but throughout Scripture God is describing Himself to man–hence all the metaphors (father, mother, bridegroom, warrior, etc.). Describing an unfathomable God is (obviously) inadequate to get the whole picture–Paul phrases it, “We see through a glass darkly.” But we aren’t talking about a *complete* description, because that takes us back to defining. 🙂

    So while God can’t be defined, I personally think it’s appropriate to try to describe Him in His various aspects…using Scripture, of course, as our baseline, and with a healthy understanding that we aren’t seeing the whole picture. In other words…we hold our own understanding of God loosely.

  4. David Wierzbicki

    love the elephant parable! growing up I always heard that it was an example of relativistic squishy nothingness, but the more i grow up, it is the only tenable way to approach our mis-understandings about just how “God” God is.

    great thoughts

  5. Robert Martin

    One thing to keep in mind about the elephant parable:

    We have an “elephant” who speaks.

    No, he does not always give us a COMPLETE definition or description of Himself, but He does interact. He is not just sitting back passive while we “mice” crawl all over him. He is interacting with us mice and trying to help us understand what it is we are experiencing.

  6. Sarah

    Robert makes an excellent point – and it fits nicely with your more recent post (Not What we Believe, But How we Believe).

    We only get a better picture of Him in the context of relationship, not just study. (And relationship requires communication – as Robert pointed out). Study is really important, but can never replace actual relationship. Our God speaks and reveals Himself… aren’t we glad!

  7. Anonymous

    god is ineffable–he cannot be described. not defining god is to make him a god for all religions.

    often i’ve encountered christians who just wants to sound cute, or find a different way of saying something already repeated for the millionth time.

    your statement is a problem because it’s a generalist theist view point; it’s non-specifically christian.

  8. Jeff McQ

    David Wierzbicki,
    One thing I’ve learned over the years is, not that God is changeable (because He isn’t), but that I must hold my “image” of Him loosely, not trusting in my own understanding of Him, allowing that to be flexible as I continue to learn and grow.

    Just doing my job, bro. 🙂

    Robert and Sarah,
    Your remarks underscore what I said earlier about God describing Himself to us through this process. Good.

    Sorry to poke holes in your remarks here, but they are unsustainable and contradictory on several levels.

    First–there is only one God. So from God’s perspective, there can *be* no other God…thus, He is not a “Christian” God, but He must be Lord of all–even for those who do not acknowledge Him. He was the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob long before He sent His Son Jesus, long before there was any such thing as “Christian.” So while we are definitely talking about the same God, by defining Him as a “Christian” God, you yourself have attempted to place limits on Him that He does not have. If He is God–He is God of *all*, or *not at all*.

    Second, you contradict yourself by saying God cannot be described. By wanting to identify Him as the “Christian” God, are you not agreeing that the Christian viewpoint, the Biblical view, is the most accurate way to describe Him? And what of the fact that God describes and reveals *Himself* to mankind throughout the Bible, and in the person of Jesus Christ?

    The point I’m trying to make is that I think you’ve confused defining and describing–at least, in the way I’m using them here. To *describe* God is to reveal certain truths and aspects *about* Him–His nature and character and actions. To *define* God, however, is to draw boundaries around Him, to limit Him, to make assertions that we have figured Him out. What we can define, we can control…and that is what religion, by its very nature, tries to do. Including the religion man has made out of Christianity.

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