People like the idea of getting to the bottom of things. It suits our human desire for stability. We don’t like floundering in high water or high ideals without some purchase we can feel with our feet or hands or minds. Worldviews and paintings should be hung on strong nails sunk deep into the meat of a 2×4 stud, don’t you think?
There are people who will stand up in a meeting that isn’t really going anywhere and say, “Okay now, let’s get to the bottom of this.” These people often call themselves, “No nonsense people,” meaning when it comes to nonsense, they won’t put up with any of it. I like no nonsense people. They’re good to have around if you’re discussing a budget or how many gallons of paint you should buy. But if we think of nonsense as all the stuff we can’t make sense of, there is an awful lot of it out there. There are a lot of things in the world that don’t make sense.
Sometimes there isn’t a bottom to get to. Or if there is, it’s so far down and back that we simply won’t live long enough to find it.
Listen to me now.
There is no bottom to your mind. None that you can find anyway. Most of what’s in your mind is in the unconscious. You can spend hours in therapy and diligently record your dreams for analysis, or you can just play it straight and try to pay attention to yourself as best you can. But either way, you aren’t going to get to the bottom of yourself. You will not know what makes you think and feel and act the way you do. The mystery of your own soul is beyond your comprehension.
I don’t even know why I bite the skin around my fingernails. I’m not getting to the bottom of anything.
There is no bottom to this world. You will never know how life got started or how human beings developed the stunning idea of our own existence. It happened too long ago, and they weren’t keeping good records.
And there is certainly no getting to the bottom of the God question. That might seem obvious, but I’ve been dealing with religious people all of my life. And though most would say that God is beyond all understanding, they act as though they’ve got God pretty well figured out.
Well enough to tell you – for a fact – that God exists.
Well enough to tell you – exactly – what God’s opinions are on a number of issues.
Well enough to tell you – with stunning boldness – what is going to happen to people after they die.
Well enough to be mean about it.
That last one really gets me. You’d think some kind of advanced enlightenment about God would gentle a person. But I meet people all the time who are mean when they talk about God. Angry, short-tempered, irritable, intolerant, and downright nasty if anyone suggests there might be a different way of thinking about God. You don’t believe me? Go ahead and type “Christian discussion forum” into Google. Visit a few sites. Here’s a hint: look for anything having to do with Calvinism and Arminianism. Go ahead. I’ll wait till you get back.
You’re back? Yeah, see what I mean? Horrible. I can’t go to those places anymore. I don’t think there is a single theological or Biblical issue that matters enough to me that I would seek insight in a Christian discussion forum.
Okay, so here’s the deal:
I’m 48 years old. I have been a Christian since I was 9. I’ve been to seminary. I’ve been a conservative, then a liberal, then kind of a conservative again, then even more of a liberal, and finally I don’t know if there’s a label that even fits me. I’ve been all over the map. I’ve been looking for God in the scriptures, in the heavens, in the world, in my mind, and in thousands of conversations with as many people.
And I don’t know anything about God.
I don’t mean that in the good way, like when people say that someone is wise because he admits that he doesn’t know something. No. Seriously. I just don’t know shit about God. Period.
I don’t know if God exists or not.
I don’t know what the Bible says about God. The more I read and study those books, the more confused I become.
I don’t know how much God cares about how we live our lives.
I don’t know if God answers prayers or what it would even mean for a prayer to be answered.
I don’t know how we should worship God. I don’t know if sticking to ancient traditions is good because they have survived some kind of religious natural selection process, or if we should just sit in silence like the Quakers. Maybe we should get guitars and cookies and sing prayers that 5-year-olds can understand. I don’t know.
I just don’t know.
There is a story from the book of Exodus that comforts me greatly. In the third chapter of Exodus, Moses is insanely bold enough to ask God to tell him God’s name. God does, and God’s name looks like this:
It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? I mean, you can see that even if you don’t know Hebrew. Don’t bother trying to pronounce it. No one knows how it’s pronounced. And those who are smart enough to have a rough idea are wise enough not to even think of it. But it might be a cool thing for you to know that it is the Hebrew word for being.
Maybe the best way to think about it is to say that God’s first name is “IS.”
Moses found that out over 3,000 years ago, and people are still mulling over the implications of it. I don’t think anyone has asked about God’s last name.
About 30 chapters later, maybe feeling cocky because he was on a first name basis with God, Moses asked if he could see God when God walked by. This God could not do. The idea was that a mortal could not look upon the face of God and live. So God took Moses in God’s giant God-hand and put him into a cleft between two rocks. When God walked by, God put God’s hand up so that Moses would not see God by accident. Then, just as God was leaving, God pulled God’s hand away so that Moses could catch a small glimpse of God’s back.
Which was enough, because Moses’ face was glowing after that, so that people were afraid to look at him.
This story appeals to me, because I have less than half of my life left. And considering that I don’t know anything about God or why I bite the skin around my fingernails, it seems obvious I’m going to die without knowing all that much.
But I think this story might have the ring of truth to it. If so, it becomes like the voice of God speaking to me. And the voice of God says,
“Talk to the hand, preacher. The cleft and the hand are good enough for you.”