Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Embracing Paradox

"The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!"  So begins Psalm 99, speaking of God's grandeur, of God's otherness and transcendence.

In today's gospel, Jesus speaks quite differently when he prays for his disciples just prior to his arrest. "The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one... I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Here God is not distant, other, or transcendent but indwelling, imminent.

Transcendent and imminent pictures of God present us with a paradox. Is God distant, awe-inspiring, holy, other, unknowable, and even a bit frightening? Or is God close, knowable, intimate, lovable? Our human nature is inclined to choose, to answer "Yes" to only one of these questions and not both. We want to resolve paradoxes when we encounter them, or at least we modern, logical, Enlightenment types do.

(For a great discussion of this you might want to read Richard Rohr's meditations for the last few days. Here's a link to today's.)

One of the ways I'm prone to create God in my image is by requiring God to conform to my notions of what is possible, of what makes sense, etc. It's a remarkable arrogance on my part when you think about it. I want God to be understandable and comprehensible to me, yet I am aware of numerous everyday things far beyond my comprehension. Who fully comprehends love? Who can truly fathom the vastness of space? We struggle even to know ourselves, much less other people. Yet God should not baffle me? God should be as simple as 2 + 2 = 4?

And unfortunately, this desire to flatten God and make God comprehensible is more than my personal faith problem. It is a huge problem for institutional religion. Institutions desire clarity and order, and so religious ones inevitably tend to flatten God into some sort of reasonable, clear-cut, well-ordered construct. Paradox and ambiguity don't reside easily in institutions.

Perhaps that is why mystics have always lived on the margins of institutional religion, and why institutional religion has never quite trusted mystics. And perhaps some of the fascination with spirituality in our day is people longing for a God bigger than the ones we have confined in our institutions.

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