What an intriguing word. The Merriam Webster Dictionary follows it immediately with the equally intriguing “adjective mul·ti·va·lent \ˌməl-tē-ˈvā-lənt, -ˌtī-, especially in sense 3 ˌməl-ˈti-və-\” (“sense 3 being “having many values, meanings, or appeals”.

There are some interesting comments by readers and contributors on the site too:

“art is multivalent” Lili Fulton Co-founder at Tea With Shakespeare/ Lili’s Book Box
“… images of the serpent and its multivalent representations.”
“… the multivalent character of parables” Susan Anholt
“Life is messy and multivalent.Julie Orringer from April 2014 issue of O Magazine – 20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself (Question 3 – Am I With The Right Person?)
“It is this movement towards the imagination, towards questioning the ‘parallel realties’ that we inhabit, the modes of living that we aspire to, and the ‘truth’ that we believe in, which activates these works towards a multivalent modality of a ‘thinking’ photography.” (Hammad Nasar. From ‘Spirit Pulling’ to ‘Thinking’ Photography. Where Three Dreams Cross. pp 17)

“The practice of trying to be human is attended to by the Spirit, whose reason for being is to orient individuals intersubjectively to truth. If proposals regarding the canon’s unity are to coexist in a community that works out their truths, then the stance accepting anticipatory unity is trust—Spirit-filled trust attentive to the multivalent of truth’s unity.” Kenneth Gray, Missionary at InFaith

The Oxford Dictionary adds to this, “Having or susceptible of many applications, interpretations, meanings, or values: visually complex and multivalent work”.

The suffering God

“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross… He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. [The Bible] … makes quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. … The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”

“To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man—not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Thy Kingdom come

The following quote has been used, with appreciation, from “The Lord’s Prayer and the Nazis” by Nijay Gupta, May 6, 2016,

“Ultimately, praying ‘Thy kingdom come’ is a very dangerous prayer – at least it was meant to be. Think about it this way – in 1937, New Testament theologian Ernst Käsemann was arrested for his resistance to National Socialism in Nazi Germany. The major catalyst for his arrest was a sermon he gave on Isaiah 26:13 – “O Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but we acknowledge your name alone.” In the audience were some Gestapo officials who reported him to authorities on the charge of treason. He was jailed for almost a month. For Käsemann, to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus, the “Kingdom of God,” was to challenge the evil kings of the world (see Psalm 2) – and they do not like to be challenged.”

“When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” it is not just praying, God do what you want, and I will sit here and wait patiently. It is a missional prayer – I look around me and I see the horror of the “kingdoms of the world and their glory” when they submit to the devil (Matt 4:8), and I long for the virtues of the “Kingdom of God” as imagined in the Beatitudes – humility (5:4), empathy (5:5), integrity (5:6), mercy and grace (5:7), transparency (5:8), seeking goodwill for all (5:9), and courage to do what is right no matter what (5:10).”

“There is something precious in our being mysteries to ourselves, in our being unable ever to see through even the person who is closest to our heart and to reckon with him as though he were a logical proposition or a problem in accounting.”

Rudolf Bultmann

An impossible God

God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence.
Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.

– Paul Tillich

What a strange thing for a theologian to say! But once you recover from the shock of the first part of his statement, the second sentence goes some way to clarifying the first, and we see that this is not a denial of God, but an affirmation.

(At there is an essay by Daniel Fincke, written in some measure against Tillich, titled “The Impossible God of Paul Tillich”
Fincke finds Tillich guilty of a kind of pantheism, and I can see why. Yet  his mysterious words interest me.


When words have become the domain of propaganda and double-speak, when meanings shift and change or are perverted so radically that these meanings are obscured and destroyed, it is inevitable that another language would be sought.

The word “God” itself is so multivalent that it can mean a million contradictory things. It is at once the deity of the Islamist suicide bomber, the deity of the charlatan televangelist and so on.

The designation Christian can cast you into the company of intolerant and ignorant fundamentalists in some narrow corner of Texas, or a group of kind and tolerant quakers in rural England, or into the company of Syriac Orthodox believers in Baghdad.

I read somewhere that it is no accident that after the First World War, western art turned increasingly to abstraction, as if it could no longer bear to reflect reality (or rather the “maya”, the phantasmagorical world we have made for ourselves). Tillich’s theology is, for me, like a Rothko painting. I remember sitting silently in the Tate Gallery in London completely overwhelmed by a nameless emotion before the restrained, silent grandeur of Rothko’s large canvases. I was transfixed, moved beyond words. I think this is where Tillich takes us, his theology taking the path of artists and poets. I may be wrong: perhaps it is as Fincke says, that “Much of Tillich’s theology looks like a pantheistic or pagan theology onto which a superficial layer of exhausted Christian ideology is painted. That paint peels off easily”.

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I do see Paul Tillich the philosopher and theologian as a kind of painter, and his paintings are in some sense like those of Rothko. Imagine sitting before Tillich’s mysterious “painting” – perhaps like “Untitled” above: the abstract painting of his theology. If you sit quietly enough, If you can silence the cacophony of the everyday, and suspend the clutter of received, conventional wisdom of the divine which can cloud the soul, you may hear the quiet voice of God.

Image: Mark Rothko. Untitled, 1969. Acrylic on canvas, 92 × 78 7/8 in. (233.7 × 200.3 cm). Private Collection. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. See: