Okay, okay, so I’m fudging a bit. I don’t “know” a lot on the subject. More technically, I “believe” certain things. And I’m starting to get what Augustine meant when he said (with my merciful paraphrasing) that what we think we know about who God is, is probably precisely what he is not.
Let me explain.
When I came to faith, and until recently, if you had asked me why I was so passionate about biblical studies and theology, the answer would have been quite simple. “I want to learn everything possible about God.” That seems normal right?
As I have been studying these past few months, mostly centered on the Pentateuch, I’ve been able for the first time, to really put much of the construction of the bible books into a context that relates to the actual history of the people and region. More and more, it reflects, much as the gospel writers did, the individual theology of the writer about God and about how the writer viewed God’s interplay in human history.
I guess, I should have realized the “aha” moment, and as the days go by from my mini epiphany, I more and more go “duh” hasn’t this always been rather obvious? I mean, I have long held that the writers of the various parts of the bible, were attempting to convey their conclusions of how they experienced God in their lives.
It took the catalyst of Richard Rohr’s book, The Naked Now, mentioned here now several times over the last week, to bring what I was learning in my EFM class to the next level for me. And here is what I have concluded:
The bible and theology don’t teach us about God, they teach us about ourselves.
Hold the firewood and rope, I’m not quite ready to climb the funeral pyre of heresy.
I still contend that the bible is inspired. Of course, much depends on how you define that. One definition claims inspired refers to any writing that can offer advice to every generation–it remains fresh and relevant because the teachings are timeless. I prefer thinking that the writer, radically open to God, allowed the Spirit of God to “teach” them truth, which they then relate.
The truths are not the historical accuracy of battle locations, mountain tops, and the like, but relate rather to those things that are eternally true to a person of faith: God is creator, God is love, God is covenantal, God is faithful, God is merciful, God makes good come from bad. These resonate with the human heart precisely because they conform to our belief in what a God would be like.
But people like Rohr, and frankly many like him, convince me that God is truly known only in the human heart. It is an inward journey and a surrender of ego so that the true self, God’s spirit, may prevail and lead us. It is “us” getting out of the way, and allowing God to enter.
In meditation or contemplation, we still the mind, and we offer God access to our being, we listen. It is an inexplicable thing, and cannot be described except to say that once you have done so, even for only a few seconds, you KNOW. You have touched the Divine, you have felt that unity, you have experienced pure unconditional love. It is transforming and is what many of us believe was the real message of Jesus–how to do this.
Rohr makes a point when he says that fundamentalists are stuck in a very primitive form of spiritual enlightenment. They believe they will understand God through the bible, much as the original writers dating from the second millennium BCE also believed they could define the Divine. In actuality, the Divine must be experienced.
The fundamentalist insists that the stories are literally true, when even the writers seldom thought that. They were simply easy vehicles, to convey through oral tradition, the greater truths that are present underneath the “story.” The fundamentalist is locked into dualistic thinking–fundamentalists are not happy with mystery. They want explanation, and torture the text, common sense, and human advancements in learning, to accomplish it.
The bible and man’s attempt to understand the Divine are not God, but they do help me to avoid redoing the same work again and again. I can place my own thinking alongside, compare, contrast, ignore, alter, add, subtract, as I more deeply realize the actual intent of what was written.
Jesus moves from far off “God to be worshiped” and nearing, slips his hand in mine as human friend who is just a whole lot better at accessing the Divine than I. But if I follow his lead, I can also reach this place–the place prepared for me by the Father.
If it seems that I have reduced the bible and theology to minor roles, it is not true. Human society has always advanced by learning from those who went before. But this journey into full humanity and union with the Divine, is a process. Once upon a time, Jesus and the Buddha perhaps had to learn these things themselves. We have the wonderful benefit of being able to use the tools they offer to find our place in the Eternal Now. This is no small thing, and should never be minimized, ever.
Place things in perspective. You have the tools, but they must be used, and the work is hard and it can be long. But the reward is worth more than the great pearl for which a man sold all he had to own. Blessings be with you this day.