The Dimension of Depth

In theologian Paul Tillich’s systematic theology he talks about “The Dimension of Depth”. He recounts one such personal experience of this in his, “One Moment of Beauty“. I think it is an extremely important and profound concept for theology.  Here’s my take on it.

The ontology (being) one employs in a theology dictates how a connection with God will take shape.  If a sharp ontological distinction is made between God and the world then there is a barrier that must be breached for there to be a connection.  This would correlate with the ontology of classic theism. If there is no distinction to be made between God and the world then we have a pantheism where there is no “something more” to connect with. 

If, however, there is no strong distinction made between God and the world then we have a form of panentheism where God is in the world but also more than the world. In this case, we could use terms like God-as-transcendent and God-as-immanent to describe this distinction.  In the Divine Life ontology, this distinction could also be described as God-as-transcendent and God-as-living.  If this is the case, then one way to frame an additional question would be “what is the interface” between the two?  With God-as-living, God self-constrains and lives the lives of all things within their particular situation.  Part of that constraint is a limited knowledge of God-as-transcendent.  

To illustrate this let me offer a psychological analogy/metaphor.  As we go about our everyday lives we may not be aware of what is going on in our sub-conscience.  There is a great deal going on deep within our minds that greatly effects our drive, motives, and actions.  For the most part, we are unaware of this.  The results of which may be for the good or bad.  In psychology, there are many methods employed to try to reveal the basic sources for our thoughts and actions.  One is depth psychology.  It’s called “depth” for a reason because it tries to probe the depths of the psyche to discover the roots and primary causes of our psychology.

Theologically, this spatial metaphor (depth) can also be helpful. What it says is that there is a divine transcendent depth within everything.  However, this is where the psychological analogy breaks down.  In psychology, “it’s all in our heads”. There is no transcendence. In the Divine Life Communion, there is.  We live this life within the constraints we find ourselves in but we are also part of God-as-transcendent. Here let me offer a couple of Venn diagram metaphors to illustrate both a Divine Idealism and the dimension of depth:

God Venn God as Living

Divine Life Venn God as Living

It’s the second diagram I want to focus on.  Now, remember metaphors are blunt instruments but sometimes they can be helpful. There is a circular boundary line around a particular Divine Life.  This circumscribes God as living a particular divine life. However, you’ll also notice there is an overlap of the individual lives in this life with the Mind of God.  This represents the divine transcendent depth within everything.  It is in that depth that we also participate in the divine ground of our being and God-as-transcendent’s hopes and wishes for this life.  Another way to describe this overlap could be a porous gradient.  The more deeply this depth is probed the more it may become ineffable to us.  Here the abysmal character of God is beyond our comprehension.  This overlap is porous because the divine purpose and urgings can manifest themselves to us. That manifestation may not be totally clear to us because of our limitations but it can still have an impact on us.  It is the dimension of depth becoming apparent. That apparentness, however, is received by us as finite, limited creatures.

Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples.  In Plato’s allegory of the cave, there are “forms” that cast a shadow on the wall for us to see.  They aren’t the forms themselves but blurry representations of them so they aren’t clear representations.  Still, they offer some clues. Now, for Plato, these shadows were a corruption of the forms suggesting a world-rejection that comes out in his further writings. I disagree with that part.  However, it does illustrate our limited perception and understanding of the ground of reality.

In the English Standard translation of 1 Corinthians 13:16 the apostle Paul writes “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”  While I disagree with his eschatology, I think he makes an important point.  In his Christ mysticism, there is the divine within that we might “see in the mirror”, albeit dimly. As we participate in the divine, there is an “image” of the world and us from the divine perspective that makes an impression on us.

So, where do we tap into this dimension of depth?  Again Paul Tillich. He says that anything can be transparent to the divine.  It could be found in places like a cathedral or nature.  It could be in art, music, literature, or drama.  Perhaps an event invokes a sense of the divine.  Or, a scientific theory or mathematical proof.  It could be just some everyday experience of love in relationships or family.  Or the birth of a child.  And of course, it can be found by looking within ourselves.  Deep within us all is that divine spark that urges us to be the best we can be — to love without condition. It can be that “still small voice” that urges us toward the good.  This list is endless because God is present in everything.  The dimension of depth is a powerful presence permeating everything where we participate in God’s love for us and hope for how this life proceeds.  All we have to do is listen to it.

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