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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In Which I Go Ahead and Admit It...I'd Rather Be Agnostic

I’ve tried a thousand times to bring words to this place over the last few months, and inevitably I give up, dissatisfied with attempts at authoritative writing in what is proving to be a wide and hazy place of quiet but intense spiritual growth for me.

But here’s the thing.

I spent some time on the mountaintop, in solitude, last week. I sought silence and the presence of God and had my fill of both in more abundance than I ever knew was possible. I heard in the rustle of leaves and footsteps of speckled fawn on wet grass an enormous, wild dream that is so outside of myself, so contrary to anything I could conjure or even imagine, that it bound me to the heart of God in absolute surrender.

It was life changing, and it’s hard to know how to return to regular life after an experience like that—a closeness with God I would do anything or go anywhere or give everything to sustain. I understand the oaths of monks and saints now, how one’s entire life could possibly be full with only the infinite fullness of God, to a devotion to Him that leaves little room for temporal distraction.

What I don’t yet know, what I am only now learning with each passing hour, is how to live a life infused, how to make spaghetti or answer email when I am bursting wide with all I am learning how to see and hear and experience.  

I have more clarity than I’ve ever had in all my life, more faith and footing in solid places, but it’s time for me to say three words out loud, in surrender, from the heart of this state of growth and depth and transparency.

I. Don't. Know.

There are just so many things I don’t know, things I’m not willing to pretend I do know because a denomination or pastor or theory or tradition or text tells me it’s true. There is so much of God I don’t understand—so much He has not made clear in this world. There is so much more to Scripture than taking its life-infused words without the aid of context or serious, open-hearted, prayer-infused contemplation.

I don’t know how to reconcile the angry, destructive God of the Old Testament with the absolute consuming warmth and love I have experienced of Him. I don’t know how to balance the stories of Scripture with the science that claims to counter their truth. I don’t know the answer for every question under the sun, and I’m aware, more than ever before, that I am not meant to, that we are not meant to.

Scripture does not tell us that He came to answer our questions, that He came to make us puppets, or that He came to give us the tools for effective evangelism. He did not come to make us healthy or smart or strong or wise. He did not come to give us logical satisfaction of His ways.

He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Abundant life is so much deeper than whether or not we read the Bible in a year or how many church-approved best-sellers sit on our bookshelves. Abundant life is not the absolute knowledge and understanding of God; rather, it’s the abandonment of yourself into His abundance, forsaking everything else with the potential to captivate your heart. 

My study of spirituality and the sacred truth of Scripture is for the purpose of drawing my heart nearer to His, not to memorize canned and shallow apologetic responses to complex matters of life and faith. Nothing on earth or in the heavens is as easy as it seems. No verse in the Word of Life stands on its own or means a thing without the breath of holy wisdom within it. So why, friends, are we so afraid of embracing His mystery?  

I know just enough to know that I know God’s heart deeply and intimately only because He knows mine, because He actually, actively dwells there. Yet I do not know His mind or His purposes for everything under heaven because I am not Him. Everything I know about God confirms only one thing: I know Him and I need to know nothing more under heaven but that which drives me further into seeking more of Him. This includes a surrender to the deep unknowing, a sobering awareness of the orchestrated Divine that is far too large to be condensed into either a single mind or an entire galaxy.

The only thing big enough to contain the mystery of God is the heart of the human spirit which has stopped seeking to solve an equation of God in order to make way for all of Him—even, no, especially the parts of Him that challenge our finite minds.

Knowing Him means letting go of my attempts to shape the universe to my understanding, to answer all my questions and linger instead in the holy mystery that is bigger than me and bigger than humanity and bigger than all the forces of nature together.

I have enough faith to tell you I don’t know, and to tell God right to His face that I just don’t know. And I’m grateful for that.

I don’t know if I’m a mystic or a Lutheran or a Methodist or a Baptist or if I will touch earthly dirt during the Tribulation or if all dogs go to heaven or why God made mosquitoes. I don’t know if any particular thing is right given the circumstances or if any particular wrong is wrong without any regard to the heart of the person engaging in it. I don’t know what happens in the hearts and souls of those who have not yet seen God as He really is and not merely the biased and blurry portrait we paint of Him as a Church. And mostly, I don’t know why we’re all so afraid of all we do not yet know about God, why it is shameful not to know something which has not been revealed clearly to us directly by Him.

I read earlier today that the word agnostic means “not knowing.” And friends, even if you have the Bible memorized, even if you’ve graduated seminary, even if you prayed a sinner’s prayer at the age of four…you are…all of us are…not knowing. We are all agnostic when it comes to the Divine.

I am a Christian with all my heart and soul—more now than I’ve ever been. I claim the life and teachings of Christ and the all-consuming power of God in Father, Son, and Spirit. And I feel no shame in telling you that I am agnostic with all my heart, too. I hold loosely to my earthly understanding of all things eternal with the certainty that there is much I cannot yet know, things that man cannot teach me, with the knowledge that I am not privy to the Secret Things of God.

I don’t know what will happen with this online space as I consider all the directions it could go, as I consider even whether to altogether let it go.

Right now, I just don’t know

To borrow the words of Ian Morgan Cron in Chasing Francis, when one of his characters is asked about the differences in beliefs between evangelicalism and Catholicism... "I'd rather be a reverent agnostic. [...] There are countless mysteries that I have to stand before reverently and humbly while saying, 'I don't know.'" 

But my prayer, in this space of my life and all the others, is this:

Let God alone be the source of all I know or claim to know or need to know. Let my mind be clear and discerning of Truth, let my humanity not reject anything the Lord would show or teach me, either temporally or eternally. Let my not-knowing be an honest seeking after the heart of God, and let me never allow any religious teaching, logical response, or crafted defense corrupt my awareness of the scope of God’s hugeness and holiness. Let me never choose the wisdom of humanity over the wonder of God. Let me never be satisfied with the boxes of logic and reason which seek to contain the Great and Holy Lord into matchboxes fit for modern human pockets, flints with which to strike religious fires that keep our egos warm. Keep me not knowing the things which will always keep me seeking the face of Him alone. Keep me captivated and consumed by the God I don't understand, and collectively consumed in unity with His whole Church, and all the people in need of His love, which is to say, every person on this planet. 

And let me never be afraid of I don’t know, perhaps the only space where I am truly teachable, where only in emptiness can I be made whole.