May 3, 2012

To an unknown god

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. - Acts 17:22-23
As Christians we think we know God.  And we do.  And we don't.

In Acts, when Paul preaches at the Areopagus to the Athenians, he proclaims God as the creator, the father of Abraham and the Israelites -- indeed, the father of us all.  He proclaims God as judge of all God has created and as the One who raised Jesus from the dead.

In the great hymn that he quotes in Philippians 2, Paul testifies to his Christian sisters and brothers that, when we seek to discern the image of God, we need look no further than Jesus, emptied, broken, obedient, on the cross.

We know these things.  We know so much more than the Athenians worshipping an unknown god.  We know so much about God that we start to think we know everything.

I used to think I knew God.  I went to church.  I said my prayers.  I learned my catechism.  I learned my Bible.  I learned a lot of theology.

None of this is God.

I knew that I could see God's handiwork in nature.  I can see the face of God in Christ in my neighbor.

This is still not God.

It came to crisis for me.  My life wasn't working very well.  It caused me to question why my god wasn't helping me.

I believe now it was that the god I thought ought to be in my court wasn't God at all.

All the things I knew or thought I knew about God weren't enough.  All they did, ultimately, was to encourage me to rely on a god of my own making, in my image.

And that's not God.

Here's where it turned for me:  I came to understand that no matter how much I knew about God, it would never be enough to allow me to know God.  A god I can know all about isn't big enough to have created the universe.  The god that I can figure out isn't big enough to deal with the injustice of this world.  That god isn't even big enough to take care of me.

God is bigger than what I've made him.

That means that no matter how much I read or study or pray, I can never, ever understand God.  That is a God I can rely on -- a God that I cannot grasp.  I cannot hold that God or control that God or -- and here's where I'm grateful -- overwhelm that God.  Sometimes I worry that I'm too much.  But God is bigger than all that.

I used to pray to a god that I thought I could manage.  Now I pray to a God who is unmanageable.  I used to pray to a God I could imagine.  Now I pray to a God who is beyond imagining.  I used to pray with lots of words, always looking for just the right words.  Now I mostly pray without words, because I'm praying to a God who doesn't need my words.

This God, big and mysterious though he is, is not inaccessible, because he still reveals himself in the broken body of the crucified Messiah.  I can still conjure in my mind's eye that Jesus who is the perfect God-image-bearer.  But I no longer kid myself into thinking that what I can imagine or understand is all God is.  Thank God, He is so much more.

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