Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
Believing in God presents a wonderful paradox.
On one hand, God exceeds our comprehension so thoroughly that when asked who God is, the most honest answer is silence. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” God said to exiled Israel through the prophet, Isaiah. Little wonder that folks who think they have God all figured out almost always end up giving religion a bad name.
On the other hand, epiphanies compel us to speak, as when a bush burns unconsumed, a still, small voice speaks, or the risen Lord tackles a self-righteous terrorist and turns him into a peacemaker. The women find the tomb empty and rush in near panic to tell the brothers. Clear-skinned former lepers and wide-eyed former blind men virtually share on Facebook the news that Jesus healed them despite strict orders to keep it mum. What else could they do?
But here’s the rub: We cannot talk about divine intervention without constructing some idea of God to talk about. Which we cannot do, of course, with any real certainty. God is too big, too complex. In my youth, I read a little Sunday School classic by J.B. Phillips called, Your God is Too Small, and the title says it all, convicting every one of us.
People of faith cannot not talk about God, and although words fail to do God justice, I submit that words do a lot of good as long as we hold them loosely. Words, after all, help us experience the thing signified. Many linguists, psychologists, and philosophers believe that we cannot perceive something without first having a word for it, an idea that serves as a template for sizing it into something sensible. Jesus gave us words about God, or more precisely about what God is up to with the present and coming kingdom, and the words help us see intimations at least of God at work in our daily lives.
But the Bible and life itself, amid all the cruelties, desert wastes, lusts, and prejudices they tell, disclose one thing about God that any Jew, Christian, or Muslim considers undeniable: God is love. Isaiah offered words about God’s incomprehensibility to elaborate on God’s peculiar resolve to forgive the wicked. God’s mercy would overcome their resignation to the grief they swallowed and the homesickness etched on their brows.
God the incomprehensible is love. Of course, love too is incomprehensible, ever surprising us with its appearances and exits, its hands that reshape like a potter and caress like a lover, its way of making itself at home in the most unexpected places among seemingly godforsaken people.
No one knows the incomprehensible God like one who loves. And only one who loves God can celebrate the mystery without trying to explain God away. Only such a soul can truly pray in silence.