Existentialism, The Knowledge of God, and The Task of Theology

The knowledge of God, it is claimed, comes to us as a gift, and to indicate its distinctiveness by the word ‘revelation’ is  simply to remain true to the phenomenological analysis of belief in God, for such belief testifies that it arises through God’s making himself known to us, rather than through our attaining to the knowledge of him.Of what kind is the knowledge of God, where that which is known towers above us, as it were, and it is as if we ourselves were known and brought into subjection?

The first case is our everyday relation to things, as objects of which we make use or have knowledge.  They are at our disposal, and even by knowing them, we acquire a certain mastery over them; for instance, we can predict natural phenomena and be prepared for them.

The second case is our relation to other persons.  This ‘I-thou’ relation, as Martin Buber has taught us to call it, is of a different order, for the other person is not my object and is not at my disposal.  I know him in a different manner.  The relation here is one between subjects.  It is a mutual or reciprocal relation, founded on the same kind of being–personal being– on both sides

Now it is possible also to envisage a third kind of relation in which there is presented to us Being itself.  In this kind of relation, we do not have the other term of the relation at our disposal, nor do we stand to it in a relation of equality, but rather we are grasped by it, our eyes are opened to it, and we are brough into subjection to it, but in such a way that something of its character is disclosed to us, so that to some extent it becomes known to us.

It is possible to think too of Being which, though it towers above us, does not annihilate us but rather communicates itself and gives itself in the experience of grace.  To talk of revelation does not mean an abrogation of thinking, but only that all our thinking is not of the same pattern.  There is the ecstatic reason which still does not cease to be reason (a la Paul Tillich).  Heidegger speaks perhaps more soberly of thinking that is submissive to (börig) Being.  Whatever expression we may prefer, this is the kind of thinking that makes theology possible.  Theology is the task of sifting and explicating and interpreting God’s encounter with man, as this is recollected in tranquility.

*See John MacQuarrie, Studies in Christian Existentialism (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1965), 13-15.


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About Max Andrews

Max's graduate research is in philosophy of science and religion. His thesis is on the fine-tuning argument from cosmology and physics in multiverse scenarios. He has lectured in logic, existentialism, metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of science, theological liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, personhood, free will and determinism, theological fatalism, axiology, moral argument for the existence of God, various cosmological arguments for the existence of God, fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, and the problem of evil. Following his graduate work he will be completing his PhD in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.