The Finger and The Moon
“John the Baptist was not the Light, but he came to testify to the light.” – John 1:8 (NRSV)
Zen Buddhism has many wonderful sayings such as, “The finger that points to the moon is not the moon.”
In Zen, the “finger” is whatever points to the truth of existence. The finger might be the Buddha (the teacher) or the dharma (the teaching), which point beyond themselves to the truth, the “moon.” If you focus on the pointers, you will miss the truth to which they point.
The Buddha likened the teacher and the teaching to a raft that carries you across a river. Once you reach the other shore, you leave the raft behind. It would be foolish to take the raft with you as well as unkind to future travelers.
This distinction is an important reminder for Christians:
The Bible that points to God is not God.
The theology that points to God is not God.
The church that points to God is not God.
The pastor who points to God is not God.
It’s easy to confuse and conflate the finger and the moon. Instead of worshipping God, we might erroneously worship the Bible, theology, the church or the pastor which only point to God. The Gospel writer makes it clear from the get-go: although John the Baptist was a bright and fiery figure, he was not the light. He came to point to the light coming into the world.
There is one notable exception to the finger-is-not-the-moon rule: Jesus, the true Light, who is both finger and moon. Jesus is the sign and the reality, the teacher and the truth. And Jesus is the Light to whom we, like John the Baptist, are called to point. In the process, we glow brighter too.
Light of lights, although I often feel like the little finger or all thumbs, help me to point others to your eternal brightness. Amen.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.