Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Keeping Mystery in Church

When Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in God, here was his response: "I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist [someone who believes that the divine is synonymous with the universe]. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws."
Einstein tried to express these feelings clearly, both for himself and all of those who wanted a simple answer from him about his faith. So in the summer of 1930, amid his sailing and ruminations in Caputh [Germany], he composed a credo, "What I Believe," that he recorded for a human-rights group and later published. It concluded with an explanation of what he meant when he called himself religious: "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man."
I’ve not done the research, but my sense is that atheism in the form we know it is a rather recent phenomenon in human history.  People in various cultures around the world and throughout history of tended to believe in something.  Mystery—that which could not be explained and would never be explained—was all around.  It was undeniable, and it made no sense to deny the existence of the divine.  I’m guessing that it’s only recently, in the age of Enlightenment rationalism, that atheism could find any soil in which to take root.  There arose the overly-optimistic belief that whatever we couldn’t explain now, eventually we would be able to, and we wouldn’t need a god to do it.  But there sits Einstein, the poster child for Enlightenment rationalism, declaring that there is something we cannot and will never understand because it are beyond our ability to understand or even experience,  and that thing is God.  And now more than eighty years later there is a growing consensus among many scientists that there is a limit to even the most intelligent person’s ability to understand the workings of the universe.  Mystery exists, and it is impenetrable. 
The shame for many like Einstein is the assumption that since we cannot penetrate this Mystery, the Mystery cannot reach us.  The wall of impenetrability works two ways, in this way of thinking.  That is because to them, this Mystery in impersonal: it does not have a will, it cannot express intention and then make that intention real.  But in Jesus we believe that that is exactly what happened.  That the Mysterious Three-in-One Creator God has a will for his creation and he entered that creation to see his will accomplished.  Jesus is the reflection of the Father, and we must understand that in seeing Jesus, we are seeing enough of the Father to understand his will for his creation.
But we must not make the mistake of thinking that in seeing Jesus we understand everything about the Father.  We must not remove the sense of the mysterious that has always been a part of the Christian faith, and I fear that we often do that when we essentially reduce God to our Sugar-Daddy in the sky.  If more and more people are realizing that Mystery exists, surely when they come to our churches they should be able to find that it still exists in our churches as well.

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