Balthasar on the Presence and Absence of God

“God’s presence in and absence from the world are a mystery that is impenetrable to thought and even more so to man’s senses and experience. It would seem that we can only think and speak of it in propositions that are dialectical, that is, which cancel each other out. For if we construct the idea of God as its content demands, God is both everything (to pan estin autos: Sir 43:27)—for nothing can be outside God, nor can anything be added to him—and ‘exalted above all his works’ (para panta to erga autou: Sir 43:28). For none of these works is God: indeed, each of them is separated from him by the infinite distance and opposition of absolute and relative. The more God has to be in all things if they are to ‘be’ at all, the more his presence in them reveals him to be utterly different from them: the more he is immanent, the more he is transcendent. This dialectic is correct in its own particular way, but it sounds empty; religious experience finds it hard to follow, with the result that the images of God in the religions manifest a pluralist diversity.

No one has ever seen the Father, but the Son has ‘interpreted’ him (Jn 1:18) in human form. As the Word-made-flesh, he has clothed the ineffable in human categories, but in such a way that the essentially incomprehensible God can be discerned shining through and beyond all these categories of comprehensibility. […] God, ever incomprehensible, approaches us as a ‘God at hand’, yet he would not be God if he were not also a ‘God afar off’ (Jer 23:23)” [Truth is Symphonic; pp. 122-123].

2 thoughts on “Balthasar on the Presence and Absence of God”

  1. Would Balthasar agree that religion/theology does/should begin with the God who is with us, who comes near to us–because that is our only way of access to God’s transcendence? God walked with Adam in the Garden, distanced himself in a way from Israel, but walked again with his chosen people in the person of Jesus Christ. Religious experience begins with the nearness of God. Likewise, shouldn’t theology take as its principia what God has said about himself (Scriptures)? This against modern notions of infinity and God as the idolatrous “causa sui.” The idolatrous presence that parades as reverential distance.


  2. Hi Bret,

    From what I have read of Balthasar thus far, I think that he would agree with everything that you stated and emphatically so–perhaps he would want to nuance/broaden the part about Scripture being the principia to special revelation (written and verbal). Nonetheless, I think that the heart of what you are saying would be quite agreeable to Balthasar.

    Well said.

    Best wishes,

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