Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 23, 2015

Leaving Room For Wonder

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

I have always found it odd that the degree pastors take to prepare for ministry is a “master of divinity” degree.  How can anyone honestly claim that they have “mastered” divinity? How can us mere mortals think that we can have God completely figured out?

And yet, sometimes I think our religious culture imposes this expectation upon us.  We are expected to ascent to and defend our beliefs about God with certainty.  Good Christians are supposed to have all the right answers.  As a result, our dialogue about religion often devolves into heated arguments.  Henri Nouwen once observed that our conversations about religion, “often seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for truth.”

To be sure, I believe we have the ability to learn and talk about God.  As Christians we believe in revelation – the idea that God is actively seeking to reveal himself to us.  This is what is so important about the incarnation.  Jesus came to the world to demonstrate and explain God to us.  So I think it is appropriate and right for us to make statements of faith based on our experience of God and our encounter with scripture.  I am not advocating that we embrace a hopeless relativism that leaves us without any possibility of forming faith.  I personally am a Christian.  My journey of faith has led me to put my trust in Jesus for salvation.

However, it is important for us to recognize that we are still in process.  I think we need to create a culture in the church that leaves more room for wonder.  We would do well to follow Paul’s example in admitting that our knowledge of God is partial and incomplete.  We are talking about God after all.  If we have God completely figured out already then we have a pretty limited God.

I find this quite freeing.  I used to feel disqualified as a Christian and a pastor because of my uncertainties and questions.  I equated spiritual maturity with theological certainty.  I am starting to realize that the opposite is actually true. To grow in our faith we need to humbly acknowledge that there is so much we still have to learn.

Perhaps, that is why Jesus said that our ability to see and enter the kingdom requires us to be born again.  As one writer puts it, “to be born again means to become like a child, to become a learner again, to abandon your adult pretensions about how much you already know, and to accept the childlike posture of having so much to learn.”

I have been thinking about this in the context of the religious education of children.  This week we will be hosting our VBS.  My encouragement to our teachers and leaders is to not be afraid if kids challenge our ideas or ask hard questions about faith.  True faith must be owned.  This often requires us to wrestle with our uncertainties and questions.

It is interesting being the parent of a child in Sunday school.  James is starting to form a lot theological ideas.  This is great!  We need to start here.  Before we can wrestle with and question our tradition we need to start by taking on some beliefs.  My hope, however, is that our community of faith will also provide him with the space to wrestle with his questions and uncertainties down the road.  I didn’t receive that space in high school, and it imposed a false guilt on me when I started to encounter uncertainty.

These thoughts were sparked by a quote I came across from Karen Armstrong.  I think she summarizes this idea well:

“Religion is at its best when it helps us to ask questions and holds us in a state of wonder – and arguably at its worst when it tries to answer them authoritatively and dogmatically. . . If we say that we know exactly what “God” is, we could well be talking about an idol, a deity we have created in our own image.”  Karen Armstrong

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Responses

  1. On my journey with my Messiah,I have often walk with great uncertainty and doubt through a minefield of provocative why questions and Truth that is both certain and uncertain will still being truth.I have learned to be comfortably uncomfortably within its tensions.

  2. Thanks for sharing Henry. I’m grateful for fellow companions on this road of spiritual discovery!


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