The God Beyond God

constellationsApparently the childhood home of Jesus has been found according to the Biblical Archaeology Review.  The home carved into the wall of a large stone matches the description in a 7th century text.  Archaeologists do admit, however, that the house may not have been occupied by Jesus, nor a Jewish family, nor are they sure that it even existed when Jesus walked the earth, but they say that there’s no reason to believe that it’s not the home of Jesus.  So, we can assume that it is.

Why are we always in search of facts when it comes to faith?  Isn’t that what faith is – trusting even though there’s no tangible evidence to support that which we have faith in?  We are constantly in need of a “because.”  We want truth to be clear and self-evident, but it rarely is.  The devil is in the details, as they say.

If you are a Japanese-American, your ancestors committed atrocities and set a shameful legacy for you.  There’s no question about it.  They snuck in and attacked Pearl Harbor, raped Nanking, took the entire counties of Korea and the Philippines prisoner.  Bad, bad, bad plain and simple. 

In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt sent the largest U.S. delegation to ever go overseas on a ship to Asia.  He looked at Japan and decided that they were the “whitest” Asian race and would be the perfect people to start a veritable Monroe Doctrine for the Pacific.  Roosevelt’s daughter, the Secretary of War who would become president Taft, his future son-in-law and Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth, and many other congressman were on this ship.  Through his emissaries, Roosevelt convinced Japan to start a rapid expansion plan throughout Asia starting with Korea as a launching point to China and then to the Philippines.  Roosevelt said the Filipinos were barbarians that needed to be cultured and he paraded them in grass skirts at the World’s Fair in St. Louis.  Before all this, though, Roosevelt felt that Russia should be targeted first so as to weaken the power of the Tsar so that the expansion plan would go more smoothly.  This was convenient because Japan was already in a war with Russia. 

Japan took well to this plan.  After all, Emperor Hirohito was, according to Japanese mythology, a descendent of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu who created Japan along with Izanami and Izanagi from the swirling chaos and who gave birth to the first emperor, Jinmu.  Japan devised an eight point plan to take over Asia and got to work right away.  Roosevelt praised Japan’s sneak attack on Russia before the delegation set sail and later brokered the peace treaty that would end the war and earn him the Nobel Peace Prize.  Japan set its sights on Korea next.  This was historically fated because it was from Korea that the Mongols launched their stolen ships in an attempt to expand their empire into Japan in the 1200s.  Two different fleets of ships were destroyed by typhoons which Japan called the kamikaze, or Divine Wind.  So, it was in a reversal of events that Japan would go the opposite direction and use Korea to launch into mainland Asia.  As Japan rapidly expanded, they came to disagreements with future U.S. administrations and eventually that of Theodore’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In order to keep the Japanese in check, FDR issued an oil embargo which Japan protested with a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.  Needless to say, this sneak attack was not smiled upon by the sitting U.S. president.  So, which is the truth?  Was the U.S. to blame for the events that led to WWII, the Korean War, and even the Cold War or was Japan really just bad and sneaky?  Well, the victors write history, so who knows?

Even when things are set right before our eyes, the truth that surrounds them is usually buried somewhere between the shallow and the deep.  Symbols abound around us that represent greater realities, but they are not always the realities themselves.  As Paul Knitter has reiterated from others, the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.  Our quest should not be for absolute truth, but instead to embrace the symbols so that we may better experience that which they point to.  In our attempt to define God with realistic terms, we have set the symbols aside and created our own version of God.  In so doing, we have lost what Paul Tillich called the God beyond God.  In trying to get all the facts and no reality in its fullness, we have lost our sense of wonder.

The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 19 this perplexing truth about the wonders of creation:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

We rely too much on our own understanding to experience the cosmos.  We are listening for the clear speech that hasn’t been uttered.  We look at the lights of tall buildings in wonder of what our hands have made, but are blinded by those lights to the radiance of the stars that shine unseen above us.  But we have experienced wonder.  Perhaps in the majestic Rockies, the towering sequoias, the sweet trill of a violin harmonizing with a cello, or maybe even in the cry of a newborn child.  When our hearts were filled with awe, there was no “because,” there was only wonder.  We did not say to ourselves, “I am filled with such a strong feeling because . . . .”  We experienced the view or the sound for what it was, God’s handiwork that is not fully explicable with human words or wisdom.

If we were to get away from the unnatural lights of the city and go where we could really see the innumerable stars in the firmament we would be amazed.  If we were to hold up one grain of sand at arm’s length, that grain of sand would cover 10,000 galaxies that each contain from 10 million to 1,000 billion stars.  Many of these stars are surrounded by planets, some of which having favorable conditions for intelligent life.  According to the Drake Equation, within our galaxy alone there is high probability of having 72 planets that could support human life.  There are no words to describe these things other than wonder.

The Psalmist continues this psalm by saying:

In the heavens God has set a tent for the sun,

which comes out like a beloved from a wedding canopy,

and like a strong athlete runs its course with joy.

When Austyn was five or six and flying with his mom and brother to Japan to see family, he was looking out the window of the plane and suddenly turned to his mom and said, “Look!  Look!  Do you see that?”  She didn’t see it.  It was a golden tent in the clouds.  When they arrived in Japan, they called to let me know that they had arrived safely and Austyn asked me if there was anything in the Bible about a tent.  I told him that the ark of the covenant was kept in a tent or tabernacle as the Hebrew people wandered in the desert before founding Jerusalem and building the temple.  Austyn said, “Wow, I saw God’s house.”  Did he really see anything?  Does it matter?  Isn’t being open to the possibility and the symbols of what lies beyond more important than the actually vision?  Of course his mom did not see it.  Was it because there was no tent or because we adults have lost our sense of wonder and therefore our ability to see the wondrous?

In the months following this event, Austyn would ask me how he could get a letter to God to thank God for showing him God’s house.  Now he isn’t really interested in the event.  Austyn and all children: never lose your sense of wonder.  Adults: it’s not too late for us to regain it.  We need merely to set aside our own wisdom for the wisdom of God.  See the symbols for what they are and appreciate the glimpse that we are rarely given of that which the symbols point to.  Let us not create our own gods nor rely on our own understanding to make sense of the cosmos, but let us instead bask in the mystery and be in constant awe without explanation.

The Psalmist ends Psalm 19 with these words:

Let the words of my mouth

and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable to you, O God,

my rock and my redeemer.

Amen and Amen.

One Response to “The God Beyond God”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    When Jake was little I remember we read him the book Polar Express, and then saw the film when it came out, and as parents we appreciated the message there: Santa resides in the hearts of those who can still hear the bell. His parents didn’t hear it, but the boy did. Query how many boys continue to hear it as once they grow to be men?

    I imagine such secular traditions are predicated in some measure upon our Judeo Christian theology, but I never sought facts before (when I was a “C & E’r”) and don’t seek them now (that I attend Tri C regularly).

    Time and time again it comes back to love, and love is wonderfully intangible.

    You can’t prove it, you can’t measure it, you can’t bottle it.

    But you can feel it, and it can buoy your spirit and sustain your life.

    And for me, that’s more than enough.

    Thx JL

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