|A room in the Grey Nuns Motherhouse, Montreal|
Monastic writings have taught me a thing or two
about the tension between trust and questioning
Some days I wake up with questions floating around in my head. This morning was one of them. I wondered why God does not communicate more clearly. If he is so interested in a relationship with humanity, why all the mystery? Why does he remain so hidden? This lack of directness means that many people misinterpret who he is or what he is saying. Many people don't think he communicates at all and take that as an indication of his absence. Faith in God contains a good many question marks.
Perhaps the question bubbled up because I am reading a book (fiction) about a missionary family in the Congo in the 60s who use the Bible (and their North American version of God) as a sledgehammer to force certain cultural behaviours on the Africans. It is quite disturbing. If God spoke more clearly and regularly about his intentions, couldn't that kind of abuse of power be avoided? Perhaps my question stems from the fact that I live in a secular, pluralistic society where faith in the Christian God is professed by a minority. I have learned to listen to opinions and questions of all kinds about life and justice and God, hopefully with respect and a compassionate and understanding attitude. I have found that quoting random out-of-context scriptures or repeating blithe biblical promises is usually unhelpful, especially to people who have little understanding of who the Christian God is or to those who have been burned by misguided folks supposedly speaking or acting in the name of God. Why doesn't God correct all our silly misconceptions, our abuses of religion, our preconceived and inaccurate notions of who the Divine Other is and how the Holy One operates? You'd think clarity and communication would be a priority for one who refers to himself as the living Word.
I have spent a good part of my life trying to communicate with, listen to, and understand the Divine. Part of me thinks I was closest to it when I was a trusting yet fearful child. Part of me wonders if I am nearer to the Spirit now in the midst of academic study where the questions loom bigger and the certainties are fewer. Part of me knows that overemphasising reason can dull one's appreciation for profound mystery and inexplicable beauty found in things much grander than one's experience or understanding. And the biggest part of me knows that questions like this are too small because they assume that the Divine Being's priorities and scope are the same as mine. The answer to my question about God communicating clearly is not that Jesus came as a human being in history, though this is vital to the revelation of the Ultimate One. Neither is the answer that the Bible contains everything I need to know, though these writings are also a very important part of the story of God's interaction with humanity. The answer lies somewhere between my limited ability to comprehend the Infinite and the Infinite's wondrous ability to be hidden and in plain view at the same time.
Is God someone who needs to explain himself to me? No. Will God occasionally/often do or allow something that will offend, disappoint, or annoy me? Based on people's reactions to Jesus, I would say a definite yes. Is this a problem? Only if I equate my sense of right/wrong with the infinite wisdom of God. So what to do with these questions which unsettle me? I only have to watch a mother explain to her young child why they are eating vegetables instead of cake for supper to catch a glimpse of how short-sighted and selfish my questions/demands usually are. I don't really want God to communicate more clearly; I want trust to be easier. I don't want misconceptions to be eliminated; I want faith to be obvious and reasonable i.e. popular.
The Light and Life and Love of the Universe is always shining brightly, always breathing life into our world, and always loving extravagantly. Whether I recognise this or not is more an indication of my narrow vision than of his limitations. The question is not whether God is communicating clearly, but whether I am willing to trust his light, life and love more than my own.
Job said to God: I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.
- from Job 42, The Message