In abstraction we seek, in one way or another, to think of what various things have in common apart from the “specifics” that distinguish them from each other. The more we abstract the less specifics we have and although we gain a more general comprehension of things in general we also lose the details. To have the abstract idea of “being” is to know something about everything and also to know nothing in particular about anything. But, that being said, the idea of “being” is distinct from all beings and thus is a particular in and of itself. And trying to avoid abstraction at all is impossible because even to contemplate a particular rock, as opposed to the abstract concept of rocks, is to abstract that rock from the molecules that make up that rock and to abstract molecules from the atoms that compose them and so on and so forth. So everything we speak of is both particular in some sense and abstract and in some sense.
When we speak of God in any sense we are dealing with an entirely unique (particular) being. Some would argue that to abstract an idea from the world and then use it to describe God would be illegitimate because of God’s uniqueness from the world around us. This argument isn’t without it’s weight because God is transcendent from His creation and it does seem rather out of place to apply ideas that are abstracted from a temporal finite world to an infinite being that stands outside of time. However, the claim ignores God’s immanence (closeness) to creation and even our thought process of abstraction.
We know from scripture that God does all things for His own glory – anything else would be idolatry on God’s behalf. So when we look at the world around us we are looking at a world that has been created to teach us about God (because God created it for His glory – to display His greatness in various ways) and so abstracting concepts from the world is abstracting concepts from things which are made with the end goal of displaying truth about God. It would be false to think of the world as utterly separate from God (as though God is only transcendent and not immanent) and therefore abstractions from the world as having no place in being applied to God. God’s immanence in our thought process also means that as we abstract from the world (which is already teaching us about God) we are led along by God to abstract in ways that are to His glory – our process of abstraction and that from which we abstract work hand in hand to give us abstract concepts that can be accurately applied to God.
Now, although we can have confidence in our abstractions and their applications to our comprehension of the being of God, we must not forget God’s transcendence. God is infinite and greater than the things He has made in this world, so while our abstractions are accurate in their finitude they are yet limited and do not tell the entirety of the truth of God’s being. However, this does not make them false. No abstract concept gives the entirety of truth about any particular thing anyways because even to talk of a particular atom is to abstract that concept from the sub-atomic particles that make up the atom. Even in our finite world our abstractions are insufficient to explain any one particular thing in it’s entirety. We Christians walk in faith and part of that faith includes that God will guide us as we abstract from the world and seek to apply those abstractions to God through scripture (as scripture depends on us having abstracted concepts from the world – “fruit” is not explained in the Bible but it is assumed that we’ve abstracted the concept of fruit from our daily lives).
So, because God’s Modus Operandi is to bring glory to His name, and because He is both transcendent and immanent, we can know true things about God as we apply abstract concepts from this world to Him. Therefore we should not be disturbed by those who would claim that we can know nothing true about God because all of our concepts are borrowed from a world that is entirely separate from Him.