There is no way around it, I am a tangible sort of person. I like things I can touch, taste, and see. I feel far more in control of things when I am holding the rope that ties my life together. But, increasingly, I have found that instead of bringing more satisfaction, this desire and striving for control has become a shrunken picture of the actual life that my soul longs for. I appreciate philosophy and reason, I’ve read and considered books that attempt to prove the existence and character of God; and I am in no way attempting to impugn those works – they are important and necessary in myriad of ways. But in the end, after all of the proofs and equations have been balanced and settled, and after we know that there must be a Giver of the moral law because the moral law exists, and after we’ve searched the desert and found the clock that could only be there because someone put it there, not by random chance – after all of these brilliant and meaningful defenses of Transcendence I do not find my heart full or passionate or joyful. My goals as a Christian are not centrally focused on winning arguments, though they do have quite a bit to do with seeing people resurrected.
There is a paradox in the Christian life, or at least in my Christian life, that has crept closer and closer to the surface of my consciousness over the last couple of years. The invisible-ness of God and the personal-ness of God (don’t torture me over my cavalier free-wheeling with the grammar on those two words) exist in a tense reality like two similarly charged magnets that only get so close on their own but have to be pushed and held if they are ever to actually meet. The fact that God is both absolutely real and absolutely invisible perhaps leads us to think of Him in merely conceptual terms at times, or as if His reality can only be sensed in ways that we have a hard time explaining to anyone (ourselves included). We shift uncomfortably in our chairs as we anticipate questions about our knowledge of God. We have canned answers that sound more like political sound bites than sacred declarations. We know God is “living inside of us”, which presents its own difficulties and creates its own awkwardness in the company of people who assume they’ve never known anything or anyone in any way other than through handshakes and dinner dates. We, as Christians, too often succumb to the temptation to strive to make everything make sense.
But when does anything truly meaningful in life really make sense?
At some level the greatest, most earth-shattering power of the Church has always been rooted in our staunch and un-bendable stance that what we believe is not common, or even explainable for that matter. I am well aware of the Church’s need to be culturally relevant in order to have a voice in whatever social setting it finds itself. But as best I can tell relevance has everything to do with things that are not the essence of life. Styles, technology, language, etc… these bastions of relevance are not unimportant, but they also are not central. And while I am not suggesting that there is some kind of Gnostic mystery that is only revealed to the spirits of those who believe, what I am confidently saying is that we ought not expect God, a relationship with God, the worship of God, or God’s response to that worship to be a common thing which is as easily understood as Calculus or how the internet works.
Granted, there is an earthiness in the Christian faith. We believe that bread and wine, and dust and ash, and blood and water all matter just as much as ascendant worship and spiritual power. But we also believe that nothing touched by the Ghost of God is to be handled as common. None of the items that populated the Temple were spiritual, they were all physical: the lamp, the altar, the veil, the ark, the incense, the smoke. But just because they were physical does not mean that they were common; to the contrary, when people haphazardly fiddled with these things they died. And it is precisely this idea that creates the purest message that I believe the Church has to offer.
The message of God is not: “come figure Me out and heaven awaits”, though this has seemed to be a popular implication. At this point I hope that we find a million ways that science aligns itself with spiritual truth, and I hope archaeology proves the Bible to be historically accurate in all ways, and I hope that Christian thinkers and philosophers continue fighting on the front lines of academia for the “proof” of God – but my message, for what it’s worth, is not that you can figure God out, but that you can’t. You see the longing of my heart has never been for something I could logically decipher but for something that is greater and more glorious and more exciting and more beautiful than logic or reason or philosophy. And while I love those disciplines and will read books about them by men and women far more intelligent than I will ever be, I also believe that there is a message that is different. Put another way: there will always be a difference between having a full understanding of the reproductive system and holding a newborn baby – and if you only get the chance to have one of those two, my recommendation is that you pick up the baby every time.
Logic and reason hold out their hands and offer proofs and assurance. Jesus holds out His hands and offers hope by way of the scars of God Himself. Philosophy can boil down the essence of Christian thought and ethics to a social system or a guiding set of principles. But the living God will never be boiled down to anything, He will never become less than what He is, even when He became a human He didn’t cease to be everything that He had always been. And even in that picture of the common and the uncommon coming together in the person of Jesus Christ I find, yet again, that the message which has captured my heart is not one that necessarily makes life make sense, but it is a message that makes life infinitely more beautiful.