Too much knowledge can be a huge encumbrance — book-learning can just as well imprison the mind as liberate. Our challenge is not to become anti-intellectual but to recognize just how stultifying “intelligent” conversation has become. We seek fresh wisdom, relevant answers. Too often, we resort to tired formulations that leave us gasping for air or dozing off to sleep.
Where is God? Who is God? Or, more urgently, IS God? Try as we might, our increasingly agnostic culture cannot summarily dismiss these questions. Just as humans are incapable of constructing a rational proof for the existence of God, avowed skeptics are equally inept in summarily dismissing God from our imagination. Our ability to think, reason and create delude us — we readily and rightly believe we are god-like; we easily and erroneously conclude we are free of God.
Human knowledge, rational argument, academic theology — necessary and ennobling as they remain — will never satisfy our deepest curiosity. Our insatiable hunger is not a question of existence but of meaning. Where is God? Who is God? If God, then who am I?
We are less perplexed by God’s questionable existence than by God’s confounding absence. No one expresses our current human predicament better than Barbara Brown Taylor:
Silence has become God’s final defense against our idolatry. By limiting our speech, God gets some relief from our descriptive assaults. By hiding inside a veil of glory, God deflects our attempts at control by withdrawing into silence, knowing that nothing gets to us like the failure of our speech. When we run out of words, then and perhaps only then can God be God. When we have eaten our own words until we are sick of them, when nothing we can tell ourselves makes a dent in our hunger, when we are prepared to surrender the very Word that brought us into being in hopes of hearing it spoken again–then, at last, we are ready to worship God.
God eludes our efforts to make of him an “object” of human knowledge. Of much greater consequence, we risk idolatry whenever we make God into an “object” of our prayer or worship. No wonder so many of our religious practices and dogmatic formations leave us gasping for air or stupefied beyond belief. As Barbara Brown Taylor appropriately laments, “there is great famine in our land.”
What are we to do? Where is our hope? Is faith in God credible? Answers will come less from academic theology and creedal formulations. This Pentecost weekend, just as at the first, we have the invitation to be surprised, caught off-guard, utterly liberated from our descriptive assaults upon God.
The self-giving Spirit among us — Holy Wisdom, Sophia, the feminine face of God — is not rational, objective or theoretical. Rather, her outlandish spectacle reveals a timeless, untamable God who is relational, communal, intimate, unitive. If there is any lesson to be learned it is that of vigilant humility — especially among theologians, bishops, pastors or any of the rest of us who would ultimately “define” or feel compelled to “defend” God.
For then and perhaps only then can God be God.
The quote from Barbara Brown Taylor is from When God is Silent, Cowley Publications, 1998, p., 17.