Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

I have to admit that in my descriptions of agnostic theology and a latent God there has been something that I've been avoiding—revelation.  For the most part, the avoidance has been accidental.  I just didn't happen to post on it.  However, I think there is a part of me that just isn't sure what to make of revelation, and so I just (unconsciously?) skipped over it.

I think the reason I struggle with revelation has to do with my understanding of human limitations/frailty/finitude/stupidity.  What I mean is that I'm not sure that how capable we, as humans, are of distinguishing the voice of God from voices in our heads.  We've all had the experience of hearing something and asking the person next to us,"What'd you say?" when really no one said anything at all.  If can't distinguish the voices of people physical present to us from noises in our heads, how can we possibly distinguish the voice of God from self-delusions?

Yes, I know that there are plenty of responses to that kind of skepticism (and at times I've been the one defending revelation), but I want to be clear about what I'm trying say:  The only claim I'm making is that revelation is hard for me to grapple with.

And don't worry, I haven't forgotten that revelation includes more than just God-spoke-to-me-in-a-dream kind of stuff.  There is, of course, the Bible (at this moment I'm imagining an ancient leather-bound book falling from the sky and landing with a staggering thud, throwing up an immense cloud of dust—as the dust clears, you can see that the ground beneath it is fractured, evidence of the book's great weight and power).  

The Bible has it's own set of issues.  To start, it didn't miraculously come down from heaven as a complete, bound book (like in the description above).  The Bible was written over a vast period of time by many different people.  The Bible was edited, reworked, added to, and subtracted from.  It was written from many different viewpoints and suggests many different (and sometimes competing) understandings of God.  It doesn't even make any claims about it's own authority (we can debate about 2 Timothy 3:16).  It is normative for Christian faith, not because God said so, but because Christians said so.

And to make it all more complicated, every book of the Bible began as the kind of revelatory claim I describe at the beginning—someone said God spoke to them (and other related claims).

Again, this all comes back to one big question for me—what do I do with revelation?  It's not that I necessarily discount or disbelieve revelation as a whole, but I think it is clear that sometimes "revelation" turns out to be wrong (David Koresh, for example).  How, then, are we to distinguish between true and false revelation?  

I started to list different possibilities and plenty  of examples and counterexamples, but I think it is better just to let the question stand because, honestly, I don't know.  Revelation is something that is hard for me to deal with because it doesn't fit neatly into the realm of my experience.  It is a troubling, up-ending, messy thing.  It turns my notions of what is and isn't upside-down.

And that is precisely what makes revelation an elephant in the room.  It is something that common sense says shouldn't be there, but it's there whether we like it or not.  So, I guess we have to talk about it....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Am I Doing?

As my first semester of grad school draws to a close, I have to ask myself: "What am I doing?"

When I started this blog, I was venturing out on  a personal journey into the unknown.  I was tired of being bombarded with half-baked theology from self-assured Christians who just knew that they were in the truth.  That didn't work for me.  I could see through it.  I needed to figure out what a humble Christianity might look like.  I needed a fresh start in my persistent search for God.

It's funny that after being on this journey for more than a year, I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten anywhere.  I didn't expect to have any of my questions answered, but I also didn't expect that I'd still be asking the same questions.  What I have learned, though, is that I am not alone.  Not only have I met many people who think along the same lines, I have learned that there have been Christians asking similar questions for the last 2000 years.  (Yes, I know that many of them were heretics—but not all of them!)

What everything seems to boil down to is that I am human.  So are you.  And humans, as it turns out, aren't really that big or strong or even that smart.  With that in mind, what can we really know about God?  What can we truly say about God?

So, I guess that helps me answer the question I began this post with: "What am I doing?  I'm striving to find God, to know God, to talk about God."

Over previous centuries countless people have undertaken that task, and I'm convinced that the same questions will be taken up again and again in the centuries to come.  None of us will find any complete answers, but that's no reason to stop the chase.  

I'll close with the words of a kindred spirit from the 5th century who helped blaze the trail ahead of me:
[God's] transcendent darkness remains hidden from all light and concealed from all knowledge.  Someone beholding God and understanding what he saw has not actually seen God [...] [God] is completely unknown and non-existent.  [God] exists beyond being and [God] is known beyond the mind.  And this quite positively complete unknowing is knowledge of [God] who is above everything that is known.
-Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Letter One