exploring the infinite

Amongst a vast number of possible ways to approach Scripture, there is one with an overtone that suggests a counter-cultural self-awareness. This approach may also very well be vital to our engagement in all facets of the Christian life: we are incapable of mastering knowledge of God. Richard Rohr spoke most directly to this principle in chapter six of his book, Things Hidden. He says, “We are saying that it is important to have correct, orthodox teaching about God, but don’t for a moment presume you know everything or even most things about God.”[1] When examined this awareness creates a tension or a paradox. The other side of this paradox is a divinely imparted desire to indeed know God. Rohr continues by quoting Heinrich Zimmer saying, “the best things cannot be talked about,” and “the second-best things are almost always misunderstood.” The struggle is, the pursuit of knowing God is precisely one of those “best things that cannot be talked about.” Intensifying this is our culturally fueled association between knowledge and an aim for mastery. We earn degrees that claim mastery of a subject and are given titles like D.Mus., MD, and B.Phil to indicate how much mastery we’ve achieved. I’m not suggesting that this is at all a bad thing. Yet aiming for mastery in our pursuit to know God is counter-productive and ultimately destructive.

Our aim as a Christ-follower is to know God, and be known by God. Yet by nature, God is beyond the constructs and capacity of our understanding. In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” We are incapable of fully knowing God. So we must let the otherness of God, stand at the center. Without this subservient posture, we inadvertently elevate our own conclusions about God and create little self-made gods. As Thomas Merton said, “busy narcissism is turned within and feeds upon itself, in stillness and secret love [it] will make him believe that his experience of himself is an experience of God.”[2] In this we can begin to see why aiming for mastery in our pursuit to know God is counter-productive. Mastery becomes a ceiling that confines us to exploring the small spaces of our limited capacity.

Two notorious and severe examples of the destructive effects of this are the Crusades and African-Americans in pre-Civil war south. We ask, “How could this happen in the name of Jesus?” Yet, it all started from this common tendency to conclusively interpret Scripture and elevate it as finite knowledge of God. On the other hand, the most inventive and creative contributions throughout history have been because of openness to the unknown. This applies to all realms of knowledge. Benjamin Franklin, Rosa Parks, Claude Monet, all made great contributions that challenged and furthered common knowledge. It’s because they first dared to open themselves to realms of knowledge that existed beyond their own capacity of understanding.

So what does this mean for us? We can know God. This is God’s great desire. Furthermore, God is the one who instills and furthers this desire. But our knowing is a mere glimpse. The beauty is, the glimpse thrusts us further into the mystery of God’s great otherness. If our aim is mastery, this reality of faith feels like a dangled carrot. But if we put mastery aside, it becomes invigorating because we will never exhaust the potential to be challenged, to wonder in awe, to find new depths to explore. So, may we be people who set aside the need to master knowledge of God and set the site of our fervor and diligence towards infinite realms of exploration.

[1] Rohr, Richard. Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Saint Anthony Messenger Press, 2008. pp. 111.

[2] Merton, Thomas, and William H. The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation. HarperOne, 2004. pp. 5.

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