Recently I started teaching an adult Sunday school class refresher course on Christian basics. We began with God. That sounds like a good starting point. If God is the creator and prime mover of the universe then let’s start at the beginning.
Easier said than done…. For some people, God is a given — a presence which they sensed as children operating in their parents’ lives and the lives of the community around them.
Not everyone has that as a starting point. Some come at it deductively — they’ve reasoned that there must be a God either logically or through superstition and fear. Yet, others have a strong sense of a spiritual thread which runs through their lives — a greater good, a force which moves people towards integration and harmony with each other and the world around them.
Depending where one is coming from, some of this might sound rather nebulous — more complicated than it need be. And that is fair. Yet how does one talk about God? By common understanding, God is an infinite presence while we humans are very finite. How can those with limitations fully grasp the One who has no limitation? There is an inadequacy of words and thought here. Yet for many of us, we perceive Him (or Her) despite our questions.
It is interesting to note that scripture does not try to prove God. Scripture’s assumption is that God is there and wants to have a relationship with people. That is a difficult starting point for the modern, more scientific mind which revels in data and proof: a mind whose primary filter is that what is happening now is of ultimate significance. That too seems rather limiting.
For myself, God is increasingly a mystery. Knowable in a sense but — which is not surprising since people are also mysterious — not fully fathomable at times. If we profess too much knowledge then we risk limiting God and that quickly develops into an idolatry where what is created and formulated becomes what is worshipped. Yet, as I look at what others profess about God and also my own experience, there are aspects which come through: that God cherishes life, goodness and right harmonious relationships; is loving and gracious, yet is also one who holds reckless selfishness as a blight to be overcome.
Faith by nature also delves into mystery: knowable at times on an experiential level, but sometimes cast into question when times get tough. Having faith as a less-than-concrete reality is a tension which is unsettling to some since it is often felt that faith’s counterpoint is doubt. Though faith’s opposite is not doubt, but certainty. In a similar vein, God’s reality if pegged too firmly can easily become idolatry.
It is fitting to end with that famous anonymous quote from the holocaust which so poignantly holds the tension of faith and God in its words: “I believe in the sun even if it isn’t shining. I believe in love even when I am alone. I believe in God even when He is silent.”
– Harold Schilk is the pastor of Springridge Mennonite Church 27 kms east of Pincher Creek.