I have learned a lot about God over these years.
I have read a library of books by greater thinkers than me; I have attended schools of theology; I have engaged in more workshops and conferences and retreats than I can remember. Each has taught me something, but I still know very little.
The mystery of God remains just that, a mystery. I will keep studying, but along the way, I will walk outside on a starry night and just enjoy what I never expect to understand.”
~ Author Steven Charleston is a Native American elder (Choctaw Nation) and retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska. He is Adjunct Professor of Native American Ministries at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU.
A seminary professor I had described the knowability of God as being somewhat like a blind person feeling an elephant for the first time.
The blind one can feel the legs, maybe even feel the hind feet and the tail. And then there’s that strange, mysterious trunk thing that can be felt as it hangs down or curls or swings up and down.
The hide feels rough for the most part, but then this blind explorer is intrigued the first time he or she feels those smooth ivory bones that don’t seem to fit with the rest of this mysterious being. And then there will be those soft jumbo ears to be felt as the creature bows its head or drops down and gets still.
Over time, as the blind one keeps exploring the giant elephant, he or she will climb to the top of the elephant and experience the joy and exhilaration of riding it.
Wow! The mystery and wonder of it all is too much sometimes!
Of course, there will be fear and trembling the first time the mighty elephant decides to drop down onto its back and roll around and kick up dust.
This will be the blind explorer’s big lesson in awe and reverence (“fear” of the overwhelming Lord, that is).
And so on and so forth and you get the picture, don’t you?
We can’t see God, but we can feel and experience the presence of “a higher power” a jillion-plus times more mighty than our little minds can imagine.
Every first-semester seminary student in the world learns in Theology 101 what is called “Anselm’s Ontological Argument” (learned immediately after learning the definitions of “high-dollar tuition words” like “ontological”).
The Italian St. Anselm was a monk who became Archbishop of Canterbery a long time ago (1093) and is one of the greatest of great Christian thinkers ever.
He famously defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.”
The gist of his “Ontological Argument” runs far deeper than this tidy summary of his brilliant case in response to those who deny the existence of God, but this summary will do:
(1) God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
(2) If God is that than which no greater can be conceived then there is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(3) There is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(4) If God does not exist then there is something greater than God that can be imagined.
(5) God exists.
God is too magnificent an overwhelming mystery for us to imagine anything more magnificent.
But such a magnificent mystery it is, dwelling within you and me and all the other wild creatures on earth and flung out among the stars, too!
I love to define mystery as not that which is unknowable, but that which is endlessly knowable. So you never get to the point where I know it all. And wouldn’t we assume that would be the nature of God? That God will always by definition be mystery. More knowability, more knowability, deeper experience, deeper surrender. So that’s the meaning of faith, and why faith has such power, not just to transform people but to keep them on an ongoing path of transformation and growth.
— Father Richard Rohr