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Not that, not that

The word “God,” is only a concept so what is there to argue about? We never argue about reality; we argue about opinions, and concepts, and judgments. Drop your concepts, drop your opinions, drop your prejudices, drop your judgments, and you will see.

St. Thomas Aquinas says in the introduction to his Summa Theologica: “Since we cannot know what God is, but only what God is not, we cannot consider how God is but only how He is not.” The highest degree of the knowledge of God is to know God as the unknown. The ultimate in the human knowledge of God as Thomas says is to know that we do not know God.

In Sanskrit there is a saying: “neti, neti.” It means: “not that, not that.” Thomas’ own method was referred to as the via negativa, the negative way. C. S. Lewis wrote a diary while his wife was dying. It’s called A Grief Observed. He hadn’t been married long before she died a painful death of cancer. Lewis said that his whole faith crumbled, like a house of cards. Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to us is to be awakened to reality, for calamity to strike. It is then that we come to faith. C. S. Lewis said that he never had any doubts before about people surviving death, but when his wife died, he was no longer certain. Why? Because it was so important to him that she be living. He says, “It’s like a rope. Someone says to you, ‘Would this bear the weight of a hundred twenty pounds? You answer, ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, we’re going to let down your best friend on this rope.’ Then you say, ‘Wait a minute, let me test that rope again.’ You’re not so sure now.” Lewis also said in his diary that we cannot know anything about God and even our questions about God are absurd. It’s as though a person born blind asks you, “The color green, is it hot or cold?” Neti, neti, not that. “Is it long or is it short?” Not that. “Is it sweet or is it sour?” Not that. “Is it round or oval or square?” Not that, not that. The blind person has no words, no concepts, for a color of which he has no idea, no intuition, no experience. You can only speak to him in analogies. No matter what he asks, you can only say, “Not that.” C. S. Lewis says it’s like asking how many minutes are in the color yellow. Everybody could be taking the question very seriously, discussing it, fighting about it. One person suggests there are twenty-five carrots in the color yellow, the other person says, “No, seventeen potatoes,” and they’re suddenly fighting. Not that, not that!

This is what is ultimate in our human knowledge of God, to know that we do not

know. Our great tragedy is that we know too much. We think we know, tragedy; so we never discover. In fact, Thomas Aquinas says repeatedly, “All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.”

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