Unknown steps

Divinity is unknown.

The divine may be experienced in mystical ways, but it is an experience of the divine, not an experience with the divine. And that with is what I crave.

I know god in some cognitive and emotional ways, but it’s still an ethereal knowledge, not a physical, real, having coffee with, hugging kind of knowledge. I can’t call up god and talk. I mean, I may be able to offer up a prayer, but that hardly constitutes a conversation of give and take. We can listen for god only to find ourselves hearing our own inner voices. There is no place we can go to know for sure we are hearing the voice of god from divinities physical presence.

Sure Yahweh is supposed to be omnipresent, available anywhere and everywhere. I even believe that the presence of god is in every nook, cranny, and crack of existence. Still, I don’t know god.

***

God has always been unknown.

There’s never really been a time in human history when we have known the divine. Human history has a record of our interactions with what we call divinity through mysticism, religion, and magic, but primarily our guesses about divinity come from the absence of a holy presence. Apophatic practice, but never a cataphatic speaking of what god is. We can’t truly affirm about that which we don’t know.

Divinity remains shrouded in mystery, in darkness. Faith is supposed to be our light in the darkness, revealing the next stepping stone in our perilous trek across the abyss, but does faith truly illuminate? Does it reveal what we don’t know? Is faith the answer to the unknown god whom we grasp, reach, and cry out for?

Faith is an active, hoping, trusting allegiance to this god we don’t know. It’s reaching into the dark, not necessarily to even find our way, but maybe rather to see what we find, what we can feel, what grips us. We can’t see what’s there though. There’s no illumination when we feel our hands caught, no revelation when we reach out. This is not a cloud of unknowing that gives way, dissipating as we move further into it. No, this is the darkness of incomprehension. It’s not that we can’t see; it’s that we can’t understand what we find, what we experience, what finds us.

***

I probably sound agnostic.

In many ways, I am. I freely admit we can never truly know, no matter our experiences, our study, our searching. However, even in the uncertainty, I believe the divine will be found if we seek, it just may not be found the way we expect it to be. We have concepts of the experience of god inserted into our developing psyche by media, parents, friends, religious tradition, and even our own experiences. All of these sources shape our expectations of divinity.

What we expect god to be limits what god is. We can only experience as much and as far as we are willing to go. But god is bigger than our limits, our boundaries, our safe places. The old adage of four blind men describing an elephant rings true here: we can only talk about what we experience, but none of us has experienced the totality of divinity.

So we don’t know. In some ways, we can’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. And maybe that’s ok. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to know the complete picture. Perhaps we are only responsible for our square in the tapestry, our interactions with the divine.

***

When we speak of god, we speak of nothing.

We repeat words, phrases, prayers that we think hold meaning beyond their sounds, but really the noises are all empty with human definitions attached to the syllables. It’s not that god means nothing. Rather god means everything. But our speech of the divine is void, empty, quiet, and still, because we only speak through human words. There is no divine language addressed down from on high, no given tongues of angels, no ecstatic speech that taps into the lexicon of god, giving holy definition to the wind passing between our lips. When we exhale our speech, it’s always bound by the limitations of understanding, definition, and hearing.

Thus, speaking of the divine nature, attributes, and actions is empty of real meaning because there is nothing we can say about god that is inherently true. So, we speak quietly, with trepidation, of what god isn’t.

***

Except.

***

One word towers above all talk of divinity and godhood.

Not that it is the only word, or the penultimate word encompassing all that divinity is. Rather it is the final word. The period at the end of god. The limitation, the boundaries of divinity’s existence. This is the one truth north we have when navigating god. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can say this is the one known thing we have about divinity.

God is love.

It tells us so little, yes engulfs us with oceans and depths of meaning. More than glorious, more than holy (for what are these words but definitions of some of luminescence we imagine god to be engulfed in, yet still, as incorrect as this may be, it only speaks to a radiation from the essence of divinity, not telling us what, or who, god is) love tells us of some person shrouded in this divine light.

Rather than speaking of what god may project or what god cannot be, love tells us of what divinity does, how the divine feels, which gives us a glimpse, be it ever so small and fleeting, of the true essence of god. And that’s what we’re looking for. More than trumpets, judgments, and regal, heavenly kings, we are looking for the essence of god that we may know and find that we are known.

We don’t come to the blaze of our theological imaginations hoping to conquer, master, and contain god.

Let me rephrase.

We shouldn’t come to the blaze of our theological imaginations hoping to conquer, master, and contain god. We come to the endeavor of thinking about god in order that we may find out that we are truly known, and in this discovery find ourselves. How we do theology says much more about us than it ever will about the god we claim to seek. Theology reveals to us our own hearts rather than some divine mind.

By holding up the mirror of theology, we may see what we love, where we don’t, and who we choose not to, we see ourselves in our projections of god, and where this divinity failed to be loving is exactly where the faults and cracks are located in ourselves. Theology isn’t an exercise in finding truth; it’s a practice of exploring ourselves. And ourselves are what we see as we gaze into this unknown god.

***

Back to love.

The glimpse of the truth about god that we see in divine love should serve as a north star in navigating the theological exploration of ourselves. See, if god is love, then our projections about god would look loving. If god is love, then the deeds we ascribe to god should be loving. If god is love, then the divinity we find in ourselves would look loving. As we do this exploration of thinking about god, we create a biography of self. The question becomes is myself looking like love?

We ask this about ourselves precisely because we shape god in our image. When we give the unknown shape, we give it familiar shapes, and what is more familiar than ourselves? So, we take the truth that god is love, and we make an attempt to shape our reflection of divinity around this marker, this signpost, this boundary. And we only know the shape of love based off of what love we give and receive.

***

So what of wrath?

What happens when we fail to shape our image of god while chasing the north star of love? This is when we begin to attribute wrath and hate to god. While god remains unknown it is easy to say he loves whom I love (if you can call such a narrow idea love) and hates whom I hate. Shaping god to look like us puts a divine stamp on our political parties, our hobby horse sins, even our socio-economic status. We never want to let the wrath of god set its sights on us, therefore we craft our image of god into one that looks so like us we may as well be worshiping ourselves.

Under the guise of plain readings of sacred texts, historical deeds and writings, and an inner moral compass, we justify ourselves and condemn the other.

This isn’t love.

This is selfishly letting the fact of god’s unknown-ness give an excuse to wield divinity to our own advantage and power seeking.

Perhaps the wrath of god will indeed be wielded against those who intentionally reshape divinity into their own hate.

***

So what?

What of this unknown god, theological finding ourselves, and letting love guide us? What does it mean for us, for the physical space we inhabit?

Perhaps nothing.

Maybe everything.

The meaning we place on the search for the unknown god is relatively unimportant. The fact is we are all searching, intentionally or not. It’s not as if those who actively search in the darkness are any better, more enlightened, or more human than others. We are all wandering in the same dark; some of us are content to stay in one place while others want to explore.

However you approach divinity, the point is that we are approaching glory together, and someday we will all see clearly. For some, it will be eye-opening. For others a coming home. Some will feel that at last, they have found what they sought. Others will be ashamed at the idols they fashioned in their own image and called them the totality of god.

Or, maybe god will remain mysterious, hidden, shrouded in glorious darkness for all time. Maybe it’s the search that reveals ourselves to ourselves that god wants from us. To know ourselves honestly may be as close as we ever get to divinity.

Maybe that’s enough