Image father and sons
Possibly a depiction of a communications situation
By unknown master (book scan) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Continuing to think about the communication problem.

Assuming God, and God’s classical attributes (“the omnis,” which is what got me thinking about this problem in the first place, the seeming inconsistency of the omnis with God’s ineffective communication …):

God differs from humanity. Not following Barth into the land of the ganz anderes, the “wholly other” God, because as one of my professors once said, Barth wouldn’t have said that if he’d thought about what it actually meant. Because Barth, of all people, is the theologian of the self-revelation of God, and there’s no self-revelation if God is ganz anderes, wholly other, since then there’s no shared reality within which revelation can take place. For us to be having this communication problem, there has to be some shared reality, whatever its properties. (That is, it might be small or fragmentary; our reality might only be a part of God’s reality, and the part of our reality that we share with God might be only a part of our own … maybe, although I’m not sure that claim would hold up under scrutiny; we might have to share all of our reality with God; but certainly we imagine that God’s reality is bigger than ours; so that there’s some region of God’s reality from which we are excluded, at least normally.)

So, God differs from humanity, but can in principle communicate with humanity through the medium of the reality we share. Let’s leave unspecified for now how much of God’s reality can be communicated through that reality; we could come back to that.

Assuming some Christian doctrine, in particular the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus as the Christ, we have the common basis of human life experience. So say we human beings have in principle at least as much common ground with God as any two individual human beings might have. Furthermore, assuming the truth of the Apostle’s Creed, we get to assume the ongoing reality of that common physical life, in some sense (“he ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”) – though not in the normal sense we apply to our next door neighbor, in some alternative sense (again, unspecified). So, God has life experience and this common basis for communication remains active and actual, but the precise mechanism by which the communication with God occurs is mysterious.

Assuming some more doctrine, we could say it’s mediated by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Again, whatever that means concretely, it doesn’t seem to mean, and I don’t think anyone takes it to mean, that it is anyone’s normal experience to communicate with God the way we communicate with our next door neighbor, for example – with another ordinarily real human being.

If I had taken an intro communications class, I would probably be aware of all kinds of complexities in what seems like the simple and direct way my next door neighbor and I communicate. But I didn’t, so I proceed in blissful ignorance of all that, thinking like this: Take a little piece of communication, for instance, Buffy my next door neighbor inviting us to her husband Bud’s 40th birthday party. Buffy, who has a unique physical address in her physical body initiates some conversation by addressing me through one or more of my five senses, typically sight and sound. (“Hey, Heather!” + a wave, for instance; or an email message, for instance.) The message is in language, presumably a language we both speak, more or less fluently. Buffy is an external, identifiable source. The message is objectifiable, and I can save it, in my memory, and maybe in another form – like the email in my inbox, or the birthday invitation tacked to the fridge with the trip-to-Florida magnet, whatever.

God, thanks to omnipresence, isn’t limited to a unique physical address. God’s communication could presumably originate from any physical address to which God has access: another human being, some non-human aspect of the physical environment, our own thoughts or states. (Any other location categories?) Setting aside the prior problem of God’s being able to make use of any particular source in the first place, which poses a whole set of problems in itself, this would seem to be a communications advantage.

But it’s probably, simultaneously, a communications disadvantage: it always has the potential for obscurity, confusion, from failure to identify the communication as coming from God, since it’s also always coming from some non-God physical address. In the case of a burning bush, which is really out of the ordinary, there’s presumably less potential for confusing God’s message with an ordinary communication from a bush, since we have so few of those. On the other hand, precisely since we have so few of those experiences ordinarily, we might have more difficulty believing such an out-of-the-ordinary experience had actually happened –  “I must have dreamed it,” “I must be nuts,” “I need to stop going out for margaritas after choir practice,” that kind of thing.

But in the case of a prophetic human being, like Jeremiah for instance, while we might be less likely to question whether some real communication is happening, there is surely more potential for confusion about where the communication is actually coming from. Since communicating with people is something we do all the time, the structure of God’s communication through Jeremiah raises the question, how does someone distinguish God’s communication through the medium of Jeremiah from Jeremiah’s ordinary communication? Jeremiah might be able to give us some information along these lines, but we would have to accept it as trustworthy; and we might not care to do that, or be able to; we might have reservations or doubts; we might not like the content of the communication, and reject it for that reason; or we might not like Jeremiah, and reject the possibility that Jeremiah is communicating with us on God’s behalf; and we could probably come up with several other problems along these lines.

I don’t see how it would be possible to eliminate the problems associated with God’s communication with people through external sources like these.

Being “all powerful” wouldn’t make it possible to do away with these problems, because they seem to reside in the structure of the communications situation itself.