In Part 1 of his book Theology for a Troubled Believer, Diogenes Allen looks at the nature of God. He begins with God’s self-revelation to Moses in a burning bush, and to Isaiah in the Temple. In each encounter Allen emphasizes God’s holiness, which he defines not as moral purity but as transcendence — God’s total otherness from all created things.
God’s holiness, seen in this way, holds implications for us. It means, for example, the traditional proofs of God’s existence, reasoning from effects to a First Cause, do not work. This reasoning can only bring us to something within the universe, but God transcends the universe. Allen believes the universe poses questions that point our attention toward the possibility of God, but the universe cannot provide us with evidence that inevitably proves the existence of God. When atheists debunk traditional proofs for the existence of God, thinking they have pulled the rug out from under religion, they have not touched biblical religion at all; they have only discredited rational, naturalist forms of religion that date back to the Enlightenment. Allen also observes wryly that the very notion of knowledge as proof no longer characterizes the sciences, which deal now only in probabilities. Allen sees no conflict between science and biblical religion, since science by definition studies the natural world and the God of the Bible transcends nature.
God’s transcendence also explains the hiddenness of God. Because God is not a part of nature, God is ordinarily hidden from our senses, which only perceive natural things. We can learn to perceive God in other ways, but it takes practice and patience. Far from being a negative thing, Allen views God’s hiddenness in positive terms:
The hiddenness of God should not cause us anxiety. It is actually a mark of the unsurpassing greatness of God that God is hidden in God’s essential nature from us. Indeed, it should give us immense assurance of God’s goodness toward us. That a being of unsurpassable greatness, utterly full of life and lacking nothing, should desire to create other creatures, is an act of utter love, because there is nothing this being needs for itself. And that God desires to have us as God’s beloved companions, to share in God’s eternal life and being, should fill us with wonder and unceasing thanksgiving. In addition, God’s greatness explains why, when God makes Godself available to us, God must reduce God’s intensity, so to speak, so as not to overwhelm us utterly. It also accounts for the craving of people who know God’s goodness to a degree to desire more and more to have God’s presence in their lives, and to persistently seek to enter into the life of God more deeply. The journey into God is never ending, because of God’s utter fullness of being; it results in our entering more and more into a glorious never-ending joy.
A theme Allen touches on is what holiness means for us in terms of our conduct. Here he says to be holy ourselves is to live a life of selfless love shown in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Loving neighbors and pursuing justice in society are ways we emulate the holiness of God, who in the biblical history is seen to care for the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the outcast.