Thursday, January 7, 2010

No God Guys

One of the things about being a pastor that I’ve never been comfortable with is that many people expect me to have all the answers about God and/or the Bible.  When they come to me with their questions, they want answers; in many cases, they need answers.  And I want to be able to give them answers.
I understand why they come to me.  I’m their Guy.  I have Guys.  I have a Car Guy.  When I’m having trouble with one of my vehicles, I take it to Randy.  Randy’s my Car Guy.  I have a problem with my car and I expect Randy to be able to fix it.  In fact, it’s never a question of if Randy is going to fix it, it’s just a question of how much it’s going to cost me.  But I never expect to have Randy look at the car, then at me, and say, “Uh, I dunno.”  He’s my Car Guy.  He’s got the answers.
Vance is my Computer Guy.  If I have a problem with my computer, I call him and often he can fix it over the phone.  Occasionally I’ll have to drop it off at his house so he can work on it himself, but I always get it back in a day or two and it’s working better than ever.  Although I would understand if he did, computers being the finicky things they are, I never expect Vance to look at me and say, “Uh, I dunno.”  It’s not happened yet.  (Better never, either. J)
OK, so for many people I’m the God Guy, although I hope they never put it that way.  Or I’m the Bible Guy, which maybe sounds a little better but is still fraught with problems.  Unfortunately there are all too many times when people come to me with their questions and I have to look at them and say, “Uh, I dunno.”  Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten that Ph.D. in Old Testament; someone with a Ph.D. should have, if not all the answers, at least most of the answers.  The problem is that the biggest thing I learned in the Ph.D. program is how little I know.  How few answers I really have.  And how many questions there are.
I’ve actually come to terms with this.  I’m not complaining, I’m explaining.  If the Bible really is the word of God, would you expect anybody, no matter how educated and experienced, to have the answer to all your questions, or even most of your questions?  I’m rather suspicious of religious types who give the impression that they have figured the Bible out, that they are the authority when it comes to biblical matters.  Heck, I’ve read the Bible, and it’s big enough to defy mastery.  My Bible is too big to be mastered.
And God?  Please.  There are no God Guys.  I frankly don’t want a god who can be figured out.  I need a God who is too big, too mysterious, too “other”.  I need a God like Job encountered, who thunders out to all would-be God Guys, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”  And it is a wise person who responds as did Job: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”  (I can just see Job, cowering before this whirlwind God, thinking, “I knew I should’ve just said, ‘Uh, I dunno.’”)
I’m happy to answer the questions that can be answered.  “Where is that verse about presenting your bodies as living sacrifices?”  (Romans 12:1-3)  Or “Does Jesus really expect me to love my enemies?” (Yes.  And pray for them.  And forgive them.)
But I’m OK with shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Uh, I dunno,” because a part of my job—maybe the biggest part—is pointing out the Mystery.  It’s not letting you be satisfied with a God who can be explained.  You need a bigger God than that.  We all do.  We all need the Mystery.
Albert Einstein, though he wasn’t speaking about God—or didn’t think he was--once said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
So also, part of my job is not to give you answers to all your questions, it’s to help you ask better questions.  I’ve always said that if you ask the wrong kind of questions you’ll get the wrong kind of answers, and I believe that is true.  Our questions are too small, and the answers to too-small questions always leave us unsatisfied.  Christians need to ask better questions, and more questions, and learn to be OK with not having the answers.  But maybe that’s something I need to treat further at some later date.
For now, let’s leave it at this: There Are No God Guys (or Gals).  And that’s a good thing.

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