Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mystery

Makoto Fujimura's "Every Beauty Suffers"

I remember an ad for Scooby-Doo that has the tag-line, "Everybody loves a great mystery." Not so. I often find in most modern churches, we are uncomfortable with mystery. We tend to like our God knowable and understandable. Yet any God that can be comprehend by the mind is not God. A God who can create universes and multi-verses is not a God who can fit in our pocket or our box. An infinite God who can exist outside of time is not a God we can pin down like a butterfly. We are uncomfortable with the God of Job who answers not with answers but with questions like, "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?" And goes on to ask, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

We shrink from this line of questioning.

We should never be so bold as to think we can truly know God. God is an all-consuming fire or a raging river. There is nothing tame or tepid or translatable about Him.

Growing up, I have always attended churches where God is presented in such a literalistic way that the poetry and mystery of Him was removed. God felt more like an accountant always pouring over His books, noting down what we did right and wrong, and tallying them to the point that I was afraid of Him without it being a holy fear, that contained a profound sense of awe and reverence. I hated this because, as a child, I remember being out in the woods, running through a field in the summer sun and feeling God's pleasure in me. It was both a physical and metaphysical sensation. Too often Sunday schools were more concerned with making us "good" boys and girls than in making us understand that the Divine is Mystery, that He was greater than our mere words or lessons or sermons. They were ill-equipped, probably, to teach children that God was unexplainable and inexplicable. He created all from nothing and did so out of love. That we were all the dreams of God, formed by the words of God. This is metaphor as ultimate Truth. That is why they preferred Bible stories. But this never satisfied me, even as a young child.

There was no holy spark in any of it to light that all-consuming fire within us. I loved the image of God as burning bush or pillar of fire. I loved the earthquakes and the hurricanes, but that despite the grandeur and greatness of Him, He spoke in a whisper that made the listener have to lean in close to Him, like a father quietly telling his child a secret.

My imagination was not baptized into the greatness of God until I let go of my false conceptions and to allow that God is beyond me in all ways.

Thomas Merton aptly stated, "Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him."

That is why the Old Testament God appears different from the New Testament one. In the Old Testament, He is presented as a tribalistic God of war and blood because that is what people understood. Then Christ came to correct our misconceptions and say, "When you see me, you see the Father. He and I are one." He showed how love was the higher law and broke from tribalism. His messiah was a servant for the whole world.

As I grew up and struggled and doubted and questioned, I have begun to realize that all of this only made me grasp that I didn't have to know. God does not have to be understandable to me. How can I even begin to understand? This is a God who can create on a grand scale like the universe or on a micro scale with quarks and leptons. Both are there to remind me, like His answer to Job, that He is outside of my comprehension and can create out of nothing, that He was and is and is to come. That when all of creation is gone, He still remains just as He did before it.

We only know a tiny fraction about our own world and the universe it's in, so how can we dare to assume that we can fully know God? Did you know that 95% of our oceans are unexplored? The universe is made up of 96% of dark matter that astronomers cannot detect or comprehend. And it may always be an unknown. How much more so the Creator of the oceans and the universe and all that is contained in it?

How can I even begin to frame the right questions of a God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and exists outside of our time and understanding? He is not meant to be comprehended by our minds. That's why the prophets had to describe the Divine in terms of imagery and metaphor because they could not fully find in our frail language the accurate description of the infinite, the Ancient of Days.


To have to live in the unknown makes makes us very uncomfortable. We like a God we can speak of and for. A controllable God. Not the God who is a lion that inspires both awe and fear, of power and danger. But this is not our God. Our God is not comprehensible because love, real and deep love, can never be fully understood. Unconditional love. 

He will not fit within our limits, our frameworks, or our parameters.

He is out of the reach of our rationalism or emotionalism.

God is startling and ever unfolding. "His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts." How could they be when His are fathomless and deep? The finite cannot grasp the infinite, the mortal the immortal. Yet we have that insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the eternal. Yet anything we try to replace the Divine with will only be a cheap metonym (one thing substituted for another) because we cannot replace the Immortal with an illusion. In his love poems to God entitled Book of Hours, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, "So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp."

There is no wholeness and no harmony outside of God. Until we accept that we are all Don Quixotes chasing our own illusions, even if we call them "God." 

Since we cannot truly grasp God, He grasps us. That is why there is that ever-present longing in man for God. 

Yet how many are unwilling to admit that the mystery they feel upon seeing an ocean or the night sky are pale reflections of the Mystery?  They hold back from making that leap. "I cannot prove God," the scientist states, "therefore, I cannot believe in God." God is incomprehensible and the rational mind cannot accept the irrational God who takes human form and dies on a cross. They cannot believe in a God that breathed His love into man and, on the cross, His grace. Both give us life but for many they limit God by limiting impossibility. They long to touch an angel's wing but cannot bring themselves to believe such exist. We cannot see the burning bush when all we will allow ourselves to see is a one in bloom. We cannot see the angles ascending and descending to heaven when we cannot view the sacred in the desert and a stone pillow as an altar.  


In his novel The Possessed, Dostoevsky writes of a dialogue between two men, Stavogin and Shatov. The former asks the latter, "Do you yourself believe in God or don't you?" Shatov then rattles off a list of things he does believe in, including the church, but will not confirm nor deny a belief in God. Yet Stavogin keeps pressing him until Shatov finally breaks down and replies, "I . . . I shall believe in God." He's not there and his statement shows that he will not commit himself to belief. He will never see the burning bush or the water to wine because miracles must be believed and then may be seen. 

To have belief is to have hope. It is to be like Emily Dickinson when she wrote, "I dwell in possibility."

To know God we must accept unknowing. 

Many cannot accept that, but for those who can, it is both terrifying and liberating to realize that while we may never have the answers we are still rooted in the Mystery. And this Divine Mystery is Divine Love. All encompassing Love. 

There are many who, like those who surrounded the cross, call out for Jesus to prove himself and come down from the cross and then they will believe. But that is not love. If he had have come down, he would not be a savior but a dictator. Gone is freewill. Gone is choice. Instead, God chose the cross and we must approach it as we would a raging river: with awe and wonder for it is both beauty and terror. It is unconditional love. In this act we can see "For God so loved . . . "

What more do we really need to know?




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