Ultimate Mystery

The Mystery we call God

From Karl Rahner we have received a contemporary understanding of God as ‘the mystery we call God’. Understanding God as ‘mystery’ is not unique to Rahner. Indeed, it is the very foundation of the Orthodox theological tradition. It was the Latin tradition that, unfortunately, began to focus on God as concept, reaching its climax in Anselm and Aquinas. Anselm was the one who spoke of God as ‘that which none greater can be thought’, by which he meant a concept rather than the personal God of biblical revelation. Aquinas spoke of God in terms of foundation and origin of all existence and existents. Rahner’s own reflections on the experience of God has much in common with Aquinas.

Rahner recovered an earlier biblical understanding of God as ‘event’ (Ereignis) within the horizon of human experience. Although formally, this approach is shaped by contemporary existential philosophy, it has many resonances with the biblical understanding of God. God is a person who speaks, questions and responds within our experience.

The mystery encounters us within the horizon of our reflective experience. It is not alien to us, or imposed upon us. It is not a mystery which does violence to our freedom as persons or as enquirers. Rather it is an event that has the character of invitation and call (an idea that has Ignatian spirituality written all over it!).

Here is what Rahner says:

Our existence is embraced by an ineffable mystery whom we call God. We can exclude him from our day-to-day awareness by the concerns and activity of our daily lives; we can drown the all-pervading silence of this mystery. But he is there: as the one comprehensive, all-bearing ground of all reality; as the comprehensive question that remains when all individual answers have been given; as the goal to which we reach beyond all individual goals and all individual good things of life; as the future which lies beyond all motion; as the ultimate guarantee that there is really a responsibility for our freedom which cannot be shifted on to someone else; which we cannot elude by leaping into nothingness; as the one truth in which all individual knowledge has its ultimate home and order; as the promise that selfless love will not be disappointed.

Quotation from The Heart of Rahner, Published by Burns and Oates, 1980, p. 33.

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