LIMITS TO OUR UNDERSTANDING 12-04-2014

Fundamentalists understand the nuts and bolts of Christian ministry like none other. But fundamentalism mirrors an elusive phantom in the recesses of our own minds. As the world sputters and heaves and as global changes reach break neck speeds we want a security blanket—we want wholesale certainty. We want absolutes—unchangeable symbols we can return to for safety and comfort…

The tragedy is that such absolutes sow seeds of hatred and war.

Providentially, the Bible has built in safeguards against fundamentalism. The second commandment, loosely translated, reads “make no images of God because God is ultimately beyond human conception” (Exodus 20:4). This is the primary insight of mystics ancient and contemporary: God in the ultimate unqualified sense is beyond our limited human understanding.

Acknowledging the limits of our understanding is the root of humility, which is lauded throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus’ most profound quality was his humility—his self-limiting power—his servant leadership (Philippians 2:5-11, John 13:4-5). A couple of pointed lines from Proverbs: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b). “A person’s pride will bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

When, in the spirit of the second commandment, we honor God ultimately as Mystery with a capital M, we shake loose from the proud absolutes, which deny huge segments of the world’s population access to God. Denying people access to God is the beginning of the process of dehumanization, which leads to violence. Humble Christians honor God revealed in Jesus while respecting and learning from people of other faiths.