Hallelujah! We Know So Little!
- 2007 Jul 31
If there's one thing you can say about people, it's that we like things to be settled. When it comes to uncertainty, ambiguity, mystery, or complexity beyond our grasp, we prefer to have as little as possible in our lives, thank you very much. Doubt and security don't go hand in hand. And we definitely prefer security. I don't want to wonder where my next meal is coming from. I don't want to hope that my loved ones are okay. I don't want to be pretty darn sure the seam in the back of my pants is going to hold throughout the day. I want to know that stuff.
And the more important something is to me, the more I want to be positive about it.
And what--first, foremost, primarily, instinctually--is the most important thing in the world to me? Me.
And what are the three things about me that, if I want to be comfortable and happy in my life, I must have surety about? The Humongous and Possibly Divine Reality around and inside of me (which is to say God), my relationship to other people (for we are nothing if not social creatures), and what happens to me after I die.
Those are the Three Biggies: What was going on before I got here, what is happening while I'm here, and what will happen to me when I'm no longer here at all.
Full knowledge of the past, present, and future. That's what I want.
Hey, no one said we weren't an ambitious collection of ... anxiety-ridden snoops.
No, but I will have answers to those three things. No one goes through their lives without arranging for themselves to have answers to those three concerns that they can live (and die) with.
Which is pretty much exactly where religion comes in.
And voila: All three answered, just like that.
Whoo-hoo! Man. Talk about one quality hat trick.
If you're reading this, chances are good that you're a Christian. Whoo-hoo again! I'm a Christian, too.
Christianity rocks. As far as I know, Christianity is by far and away the greatest of the Religion Options.
(You know, I can just feel a certain type of Christian out there, waiting for me to blaspheme. Well, whaddaya gonna do.)
Of course, none of us feels like we chose Christianity. We feel, instead, that Christianity--that is to say Christ--chose us.
We're saved! And amen to that glorious fact of pre-life, this life, and the afterlife.
But here's something I'd like to suggest. Because, saved or not, we still like to be as neat, clear, and sure about All Things Critical as possible, we have a (natural) inclination to strip God of too much of his impenetrable, ultimately mysterious quality. Thank goodness (wait: is that just a pagan way of saying "Thank God"?!!) we Christians are saved from doing too much of that, since we have at the center of our faith the Holy Trinity, which is as mysterious as mysterious gets. But even there, we so readily break that incomprehensible miracle down into its much more comprehensible components: dealing with God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit separately isn't nearly as ... challenging as dealing with all three at once.
And that's fine. We do, after all, have to get on with our lives. Spend too much time thinking about the Trinity, and the next thing you know you've blocked traffic on the freeway eight miles behind you because you've gone into a trance. It's good to have parts of the whole with which we can more straightforwardly relate.
But here's my point: We should, sometimes, just acknowledge that we don't know everything about God--that we can't know everything about God, that we shouldn't know everything about God, that God is and must remain for us a mystery we could no sooner grasp than we can flap our arms and fly. So much of (modern) Christianity is about explaining God, about naming God's purpose, about ... well, sort of scaling, gutting, filleting, preparing, and presenting God.
We think we know. We're so sure that we know.
And we do, of course. We certainly know what we need to know, which is that God came to earth as Jesus and out of love sacrificed himself for our eternal salvation. That we know. That we're sure of.
But sometimes, we should just stop and admit that beyond that--beyond the very core facts and truth of our faith--we sort of don't know diddley.
I mean, look:
We are rightfully proud to be God's representative on earth. Yet pride, we know, cometh before the fall.
We must be strong, forthright leaders. Yet we must be humble, broken followers.
We must loath those who reduce our religion to rules--we want relationship, not "religion"! Yet we must systemize our faith, so that we can effectively teach it the world.
Nature is the ultimate expression of God's glorious handiwork. Yet the earth is God's gift to mankind to use for his advantage.
We should delight in our sexual relationship with our spouse. Yet sex is Satan's weapon of choice against us.
We must evangelize to others. Yet people are saved by grace, and grace alone.
God has a plan and a purpose for our life. Yet God is self-sufficient; nothing can be added or taken from him.
Heaven is ours. Yet God is judging us.
Jesus was fully human. Yet Jesus was absolutely sinless.
I'm not saying that we can't understand or intuit the truths behind these sorts of dichotomies. I'm just saying that on the face of it our faith demands that we loosen up some of that which keeps us so sure we understand the entirely of God's nature and will. We don't understand the entirely of God's nature and will. We can't understand that. We'll never understand that.
I think we should consider modifying our worship services. I think one Sunday a month everyone in church--and especially our pastors, church leaders, and anyone who makes any kind of living talking or writing about God--should come into the pews, take a seat, and, for the duration of the time the service usually lasts, remain perfectly quiet.
Share your thoughts on this here.