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Divine Ineffability


The idea that God is ineffable is the idea that he is beyond description. Language is inadequate to describe God. Our finite experiences cannot capture his infinite being. Because of this, God cannot be described literally, only analogically.

There are many analogies traditionally used to communicate something of Godís nature, with the acknowledgement that all analogies break down at some point. These include the description of God as Father, Shepherd, and King.

Each of these analogies is designed to communicate different aspects of Godís nature: God is called Father to communicate the fact that he is our Creator; he is called Shepherd to communicate the way that he tends and cares for us; he is called King to communicate his power and authority. Of course, in each of these cases the divine attributes go well beyond those of the human model, but the analogy at least makes it possible for us to understand something of God, even if we cannot literally describe him.

These analogies emerged in societies dominated by men, and this is why the majority of them describe God in male terms. Authority, power, and status were only really possessed by men at this time, and so it was only really a comparison with male roles that could communicate these aspects of Godís nature. Not all of the analogies are male, however. For instance, the Bible also involves maternal imagery representing Godís nurturing side.