“That is one thing about you Christians that I just don’t understand. You think you know the mind of God, the thoughts of God, how God thinks, speaks, and feels. We don’t know the mind of God and we are not meant to know God’s mind. It’s arrogant to think you do”.
This was said to me (not an exact quote but very close and certainly precise in meaning) on a plane from New York to Detroit years ago. I was flying home from the city that never sleeps after a few fulfilling days of doing ministry with friends, and I just happened to be seated next to a very joyful and boisterous highly conservative Jewish businessman. He sparked up conversation and eventually asked me about my occupation which I replied that I was a pastor in the Christian faith. That led to a plane-ride-length conversation about God, purpose, and the meaning of faith and life. He was taken back and impressed that I knew some basic details about his faith and the words between us were rich. The Christian faith is deeply rooted in the Hebrew tradition, so I was asking many questions and eating the words between us as if they were a gourmet meal. But there came a moment where I casually answered a question of his with something like “I know that God thinks blah blah blah…”.
The man responded with an audible gasp, guttural and loud, and proceed to chastise me telling me how arrogant I was to assume to know the mind of God and then proceeded to speak over me the sentiments of the opening quote of this post.
At first blush I blew him off in my mind thinking something arrogant like “well your Jewish and don’t know Jesus but I do so…”. But something was placed in my heart by his words, kind of like a stake being pounded into the ground, and that “stake” has never left the property of my heart, mind, and soul. Our plane ride ended shortly after this moment, and we said our goodbyes and shared how much we loved talking with each other. To this day I so wish I had gotten his name and number but alas many people come and go throughout this life journey that we never see again but leave an indelible mark on our lives. I suppose you have many in your life as well.
All these years later, I still think of that conversation and more so lately as I am working through new ways in which I view faith, God, myself, my neighbors, and the world. I have been asking a lot of questions within myself; Have we gotten too casual with God? Why are Christians so confident they understand God’s will and God’s intentions? How could it be that finite beings have laid claim to the infinite “one true God” and continue to speak in a manner that brings forth such certitude and certainty? In recent months I’m continually reminded of something I learned while studying Buddhism in the 1990s…”the more I know about God the less I realize I know”. How true that is becoming at this stage in my life. In small ways I’m starting to understand that the faith tradition I was involved in over the past two decades has potentially missed the mark, especially as it pertains to entering the mystery of the all-knowing, all holy, all perfect, and all present God of the Universe. God has been put into a box and claimed for a particular people with a particular set of beliefs (and no I’m not going to quote Liam Neeson at this point…don’t worry!). The older I get the more I go back to my Jewish friend on the airplane…how dare I claim to know the intricacies of an all-mighty God.
It does not mean that I’m not confident in knowing God or that I do not follow or love God but rather I approach God with a deep sense of reverence, humility, and wonder. It means I do not assume to know God’s exact ways or thoughts.
It means I live in a truer state of reliance upon God and learn to enter the mystery of God with a heart that is willing to be continually corrected, adjusted, molded, and shaped. It means that what I know today about God is probably not what I will know tomorrow. It means that God is endless and eternal, and I am not. It means that there is always MORE with God. It means that I must hold lightly what I so confidently say is true today so that when God reveals more tomorrow, I can embrace the MORE and evolve in my faith and understanding.
In some ways these are fighting words in a conservative western evangelical world where deep certainty wins the day and confidence to speak over people what God is saying, and meaning is touted and celebrated. There is a blind confidence that lives within that world that secretly whispers inside “I already know the truth so I’m good…”. I personally know the sound of that secret whispered thought and it scares the shit out of me when it comes to faith and God. I never want to reach a point where I claim to know all I need to know about THE God that holds the whole world in the hollow of his hand. I’m praying I can embrace the mystery that is God and be confident that God is continually expanding my ability to see faith, myself, my neighbor, and the world in an ever-evolving way. I pray God trains my heart, mind, and soul to not rely on my own understanding or ways but continue to learn to surrender to God and let his ways slowly transform mine. Simply put…(and quoted by my travelling partner…).
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Humble us Lord
Lead us in your ways that have everlasting value
Grow us Lord
Let our thoughts and ways continue to evolve and grow becoming more like yours everyday
The image is from an artist I recently met. His name is Scott Erickson and now you are introduced as well.