And the more important something is to us, the more surety we want about that thing.
And what do most of us count as among those things about which we definitely need maximum certainty?
That’s an easy one: Ourselves.
In order to feel as secure as possible about ourselves, people need to have all the mental and emotional certainty they can possibly muster about these three things:
1. The Big Picture. God; no God; which God, etc. Everybody needs the Big Context.
2. Our relationships with others. Who likes us? Who loves us? Why? Why not?
3. The afterlife. What’s going to happen to us after we die, for God’s sake?
Those are life’s Big Three constant concerns.
And what those boil down to is: What was going on before I got here (the God question); what is happening while I’m here (the people question); and what will happen to me after I’m outta here?
The past; the present; the future. That pretty much wraps up all anyone ever really cares about.
And what single thing supplies complete answers to all three of those concerns? Religion. A person who believes in the core tenants of a religion automatically has comprehensive answers to virtually all three of the biggest areas of their or anyone else’s life concerns.
And that, folks, is why 95% of people on the planet cleave to one religion or another. (The very definite belief system of atheism is in effect also a religion—but for now we’ll let that go.) Religion comforts people, in every big and important way they need comforting.
What do we Christians say? That we’re saved! And that’s exactly what we mean: that we’ve been saved from fear; that Jesus was God who came to earth for the singular purpose of making sure that we really understand that we don’t have to live with fear and doubt about who God is, how we’re supposed to live, and what will happen to us after we die.
What a beautiful, beautiful thing that is.
Except here’s where things get interesting. Because, saved or not, what happens is that we take our persistent, instinctive drive to be absolutely, 100% certain about everything, and then superimpose it over whatever it is we believe about God.
We must be certain about God—or everything else falls apart for us.
And what this means is that we don’t really want a God who is mysterious, because there’s no way to be perfectly sure about something mysterious—much less something whose very nature is mysterious. There’s just no way that can work for us. It never has. It never will. It can’t. A God who can’t be understood leaves on the table too much that’s too important to us.
That’s why we have to tell ourselves that we don’t think we know who God is. We must tell ourselves (and, usually, anyone who will listen to us) that we know who God is.
And that’s actually quite fine, and even true: we do know who God is. But I do think it’s terribly important that at least every once in a while we remember to stop and at least acknowledge that God has always been, and will always be, a mystery. We mustn’t be afraid to be more cognizant of the fact that we don’t know everything about God; that we can’t know everything about God; that we shouldn’t know everything about God; that we can no sooner hold God in our minds than we can flap our arms and fly.
And it’s not like it’s hard for us to be reminded of how completely unfathomable is God and our relationship to him. For instance:
We are rightfully proud to be God’s representative on earth. Yet we know pride to be one the Devil’s strongest tools against us.
We must be strong, forthright leaders. Yet we must be humble, broken followers.
We don’t want our religion reduced to rules—we want relationship, not religion! Yet we must systematize our faith so that we can effectively practice it, study it, and teach it the world.
Nature is the ultimate expression of God’s glorious handiwork. Yet the earth is God’s gift to mankind to use in whatever way we thinks best.
We should delight in our sexual relationship with our spouse. Yet sex is Satan’s weapon of choice against us.
We must evangelize to others. Yet people are saved by God’s grace, and God’s grace alone.
God has a plan and a purpose for our life. Yet God is self-sufficient; nothing can be added or taken from him.
Heaven is ours. Yet we still await God’s judgment of us.
Jesus was fully human. Yet he was absolutely sinless.
God is one. Yet God is three.
And those are just the mysteries we know about.
It’s not that we’re helpless to understand or intuit the greater truths behind these sorts of dichotomies. It’s just that the very nature of our faith demands that we loosen up some of that which keeps us so certain that we fully understand God. We don’t. We can’t. We never will.
And thank God for that! Who wants a God they can fully comprehend? How deathly boring would that be?
I think we should consider modifying our worship services. I think that one Sunday a month, everyone in church—including (if not especially) our pastors—should come into the pews, take a seat, and, for the duration of the time the service usually lasts, remain perfectly quiet.