Understanding God through Gestalt Theory?

Could we understand God more by following the idea and principles of Gestalt psychology? This question came across my mind while reading Max Wertheimer’s ‘Gestalt Theory’ and ‘Laws of Organization in Perceptual Form’. In certain way, could the theory benefit us in seeing a clearer image about God’s glory, God’s creation and even His attribute?

Being a Christian so many years, this would be my first attempt to understand or analyze the theology in conjunction with the use of psychology theory. Of course this topic might not directly link to my practice project, but it would be useful and interesting to review a subject as such critical way. I would kick off the topic from both two different perspectives first.

First above, let’s overview some of the main points found in Gestalt theory. In Wertheimer’s ‘Gestalt Theory’, he suggests a new alternative solution that the objects are perceived as the component parts of organization and we should examine the organization’s integrated or unified behavior as a whole. In Christian von Ehrenfels’ “On ‘Gestalt Qualities”’, he describes a melody would still remain recognizable despite the notes has been changed. He further asserts the qualities could even be extended to ‘Gestalt qualities of higher order’, i.e. moral, rivalry, marriage, theft, robbery, war, etc. Kurt Koffka emphasizes that the figure and ground idea are not only applicable in the auditory and visual fields, but also in any other sensory field in his ‘Perception: An Introduction to the Gestalt-theory’. In term of ambiguous patterns, Koffka argues that our different structure will correlate with different form, one of the most famous case is Edgar Rubin’s goblet-vase image (known as Rubin Vase generally). Perceptions on both figure and ground are equally significant to us. In ‘Laws of Organization in Perceptual Form’, Wertheimer introduces a series of organization laws to o perceive and interpret grouping objects. He stresses on the importance of perceiving an organization (or its behaviors) as a whole instead of focusing separated dispersed objects.

Second, from the perspective of human being, I categorize God’s attribute and creation into 2 major groups: positive space and negative space. Whatsoever of we can perceive physically or earthly, I would put into the category of ‘positive space’; on the other hand, whatsoever of cannot be perceived physically or earthly, it will be categorized into ‘negative space’. Due to my limited theoretical knowledge, I could only refer to certain verses below:

Positive Space
1. God’s Creation

  • “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1
  • “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” — Hebrews 11:3
  • “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” — Colossians 1:16
  • “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

2. Human Time

  • “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” — Genesis 2:2

3. Human Knowledge and Wisdom

  • “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” — Genesis 2:17
  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” — Proverbs 1:7
  • “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” — Proverbs 2:6
  • “For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” — Proverbs 2:10
  • “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” — Hosea 4:6

Negative Space
1. God’s Spirit

  • “Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice” — Deuteronomy 4:12
  • “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” — John 1:18
  • “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” — John 4:24

2. God’s Time

  • “For this is what the high and exalted One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy….” — Isaiah 57:15
  • “For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” — Psalm 90:4
  • “From everlasting to everlasting You are God” — Psalm 93:2
  • “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” — 2 Peter 3:8

3. God’s Knowledge and Wisdom

  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” — Habakkuk 2:14
  • “Do you know the balancing of the clouds, the wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge.” — Jobs 37:16
  • “For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” — Jobs 28:24
  • “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:9
  • “Your knowledge is amazing to me; it is more than I can understand.” — Psalm 139:6
  • “God, examine me and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” — Psalm 139:23
  • “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. ” — Psalm 147:5
  • “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” — Matthew 10:30

4. Human Soul and Spirit

  • “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” — Genesis 2:7
  • “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.” — Matthew 16:26
  • “Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?” — Jobs 30:25
  • “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10
  • “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” — 1 Samuel 18:1
  • “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” — John 4:24

Positive & Negative

There are much more examples I couldn’t list down here due to limited space, e.g. God’s glory, justice, love, etc., but my focus is methodology of using Gestalt theory. By perceiving both positive space and negative space biblically, perhaps we could understand God more extensively. My question is, in this instance could it be any grey zone in between the positive space and negative space? Ultimately, the answer still lies with the paradoxical mediator — Jesus Christ.

4

Let us look at some of Jesus’ attributes through bible verses:
God and Man

  • “I and Father are one.” — John 10:30
  • “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” — John 8:58
  • ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1
  • “For (there is) one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” — 1 Timothy 2:5
  • “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” — Matthew 28:19
  • “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” — John 1:14
  • “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” — Matthew 4:1
  • ” He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” — Luke 4:2
  • “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” — Luke 2:52
  • “But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” — John 19:33

Time
The way to label years has been divided into AD (Anno Domini) and BC (Before Christ) after the birth of Jesus Christ.

Mediator between God and Human

  • “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” — John 14:6
  • “For there is one God and one mediator between God and Mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” — 1 Timothy 2:5
  • “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” — Hebrews 12:24

Gestalt theory offers a new solution in seeing the organization’s unified behavior and phenomenon as a whole, and this could apply into the other context by observing both its positive space and negative space. In the context of theology, when the intersection in between positive space and negative space occurs, could human being understand God’s glory and salvation easier? Of course this is just my attempt to analysis God’s attribute by using Gestalt theory, from the perspective of both positive space and negative space.

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