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  Mysticism What can I know for certain?

by The Rev. Dr. Robert R. Hansel

I want to remind you of an old story--a story that, I’m sure, all of you have heard at some point. The thing about old stories is that they become old by being told over and over. And the reason they are told and retold is because they contain a lot of truth and insight--enough that people want to retain and remember them. Well this story is about a community of blind people in India who wanted very much to know about elephants. They had heard all about these creatures but, of course, had never seen one. They selected a group of six blind representatives to be taken where there was an elephant that they could inspect by touching it--and then they were to report back to all their blind friends. The first one to return had touched only a tusk and, therefore, reported with confidence, “The elephant is long, hard, and has a sharp point.” The second witness laughed off that report because he had felt the creature’s tail. He indicated, with assurance, “The elephant is like a rope with a tassel at the end." Each of the others dismissed the earlier statements and, depending on which part of the elephant they had felt, reported that it was like a high wall, a large fan, a fat wiggly snake, or the trunk of a tree. Each report was accurate up to a point, but none contained the whole truth, even though the witness in each case was absolutely certain….

Man’s search for God is an important and commendable enterprise. There can’t be too much of it, in my opinion, but what I want to talk with you about today is a basic problem connected with our persistent search for a logical and compelling statement of our Christian Faith that needs to be recognized. The danger in human beings seeking to find a logical, rational, fully believable version of God is that we just might wind up with a “do-it-yourself” theory that sounds great but has nothing to do with the way God really is. The problem is that this notion of “searching for God” is not a one-way street, an activity that proceeds strictly out of our own limited insight and understanding. It’s not like God is lost or that God is hiding--so that somehow it’s up to us human beings to figure out the Truth all on our own. The reality is that our search to discover the basis for our faith in God is at all times matched and far-exceeded by God’s Faith in Us.

The Christian Faith is, technically, a “revealed” religion. That is, what we know and believe about the nature and purposes of God have been revealed to us over centuries of time. No one sat down and dreamed up the story of God coming among us in the person of Jesus. No one decided that it would be a good idea if God would be pleased whenever those who had more than enough resources to share helped the poor. No one calculated that the extent of forgiving one’s neighbor was properly “seventy times seven” occasions. All this insight and information about God didn’t just pop into the mind or imagination of some great thinker while he or she was meditating on the mysteries of God. Rather, God revealed all these things to us because God really, really wants us to know, understand, and have faith in God. Why does God bother? Because God has absolute unconditional faith in us, in spite of all evidence of history that suggest you and I may not be very worthy of such faith.

The central question raised in the text of Psalm 8 is this one (addressed to God) asking: “What is mankind that You should care so much about us?” The text contrasts our puniness and insignificance with God’s limitless power, our fickleness and instability with God’s constant dependability, our own dullness of sight with God’s boundless creativity.

Now the psalmist is not engaging in mental gymnastics or idle speculation. He is speaking on the basis of hard evidence, his experience of the world and of nature. In short, he is sharing some things that have been revealed to him over a lifetime of observation. Just listen, once again, to what the writer of this Psalm has to say:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
the son of man, that You should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels;
You adorn him with glory and honor;
You give him mastery over the works of your hands;
You put all things under his feet…O Lord our God,
How exalted is your name in all the World!

These are not impersonal, abstract theories about God. The writer is sharing very personal observations of recurring patterns that frame and define his very existence. He reflects on his faith in the light of what God has shown to him. He starts not with his need to find God but, instead, with God’s ongoing effort to find us and to show us God’s own nature and purpose toward us.

If you go to your favorite bookstore, you will find shelves of literature about mankind’s search for God, all sorts of Bible study, meditation guides, and spiritual exercises that purport to offer you a shorter journey in your quest to discover God. You may very well find some resources there that are insightful and helpful. At the same time, you need to recognize that almost all of it is sheer speculation. Who among us is ready to claim complete understanding of the mind of God? Who among us has the right to claim that we can make infallible statements about what God thinks about this or that contemporary social issue?

Now here is, to me, a fascinating thing to ponder: Even as we acknowledge that the mystery of God is always beyond our comprehension or discovery, the exact opposite is true of God’s knowledge of each one of us! God’s knowledge of you is not partial, but complete. God understands everything about us, our innermost thought, without any speculation or distortion of any kind. Still, even with all our faults and shortcomings, God loves us without any preconditions. God will never abandon us no matter how disappointing our thoughts and behavior may be. God patiently supports us and awaits our response of trust--no matter how long it takes. God has absolute Faith in us.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Our Faith in God has its beginning, if it is to be more than some faulty human philosophical speculation, in an awareness and appreciation of God’s Faith in us--that we can and will stand together and, with forbearance and forgiveness, exercise humility, listening to one another and learning together.

When we respond to God’s knowledge of us, God’s presence always and everywhere surrounding us, God’s creative spirit sustaining and maintaining everything that is or ever will be, then we are able to share in the wisdom, the calm, and the wonder of the writer of Psalm 8. True Faith is not the product of our search for God but our recognition of the fact that, during every moment of our life, we are constantly encountering God’s faith in us. That awareness and its celebration are the only basis for a living Faith. That orientation alone is the foundation for living gratefully, generously, and responsibly. I promise you, God has faith that every one of us has the capacity and opportunity to arrive at exactly that gracious, appreciative, and accurate perspective.

God believes in you.

Copyright ©2003 Calvary Episcopal Church

--From “God’s Faith in Us” by The Rev. Dr. Robert R. Hansel




>How can I explore
the Mystery?

>What can I know for certain?

>What shows me that
God cares?

>How can Jesus help
me understand?

>Where can I touch
the edge of heaven?


> What makes
someone a Mystic?

> How do I find the
Mystic Path?

> What can I learn
from Mystic Poets?

> How can I nurture
my connection to the Sacred?


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