"We are . . . perplexed, but not driven to despair." - 2 Corinthians 4:8
A friend's mother died recently. Flipping through sympathy cards I came across a vaguely "spiritual" quote from the astronomer Pierre Laplace: "What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense." Given the context it seemed like a stupid thing to say. Where's the comfort?
Yet, I have to confess that Laplace captures my own faith quite well. I'm convinced that those who follow Jesus don't know a whole lot about God. Jesus is God's ultimate revelation, but he speaks in riddles. He beguiles. He retains God's mystery. Jesus is hard to understand.
This can be frustrating. But the alternative would be much worse. To know something completely is to control it. Any time humanity saps the mystery of an object we subject it to our own ends. The result it always trouble. From the secrets of the atom to the cheapest way to farm a chicken, we take existence, squeeze the mystery from it and wreak havoc in the process. So imagine the horror that we would unleash were we able to master God. Perhaps we are protected by Christ's riddling.
"We Don't Know Much" isn't going to replace "God is Still Speaking" any time soon, but the world needs Christians who are wise enough to be perplexed. I was wrong. That card was right. It isn't the first thing I'd tell a grieving friend, but the truth is beautiful: what we don't know is immense indeed.
Dear God, thank you for perplexing us with your immensity. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.