Some of my most vivid childhood memories are those of church Sunday school classes. I remember the felt-covered boards the teachers would use to give visuals for the stories – the ones with the little paper Bible characters. I don’t think many Sunday school teachers use felt boards anymore; I suppose they’re rather unremarkable in comparison with today’s high def media.
The most memorable Sunday school lesson I ever received was about the story of Jacob and Esau. The teacher had us take turns wearing fur coverings on our forearms to simulate the way Jacob tricked his father into giving him the patriarchal blessing over his older brother. I wondered then, and still wonder, how Isaac – blind though he was – managed to miss that he was being fooled. I’ve always thought blind people compensated for their disability by relying on the natural enhancement of their other senses. How did Isaac’s enhanced sense of touch fail to alert him that it was goat’s hair on those arms he caressed? I once tried to trick my own father in similar fashion by hiding a book in the seat of my pants before receiving a spanking. My dad’s senses were apparently more keen than old Isaac’s. Dad got a good laugh, but I still got a spanking – without the benefit of my makeshift butt-shield, of course.
Isaac’s lack of sensory adeptness wasn’t the only thing that confused me back then. I see now that I was confused in ways I wasn’t old enough to realize. I was “learning” the Bible in the same way I would learn a history text book. I should not have focused on the minutia – that of Isaac being too dense to properly identify one of his own children – that’s the how of the story. Instead, I should have paid attention to the why of the story, as I should have with all the stories of the Bible. If I had, I may have saved myself tremendous angst down the road.
When I learned to read the Bible as a historical text book, I learned to place God into my world, rather than understanding that I am part of His World
I grew up viewing God as a character in the Story of Me. The problem with this view is that it makes God extremely small in my mind. More aptly, this sort of God – little more than a co-star in “Luke the Movie” – is a God that isn’t even real. This sort of God – when tested by the fire of modern intellectualism, as well as the pain and tragedy of our world – this God disappears, like vapor in the gale of a storm.
In my life, I’ve experienced no pain so cutting as that which came about when I began to question my childhood assumptions of God – assumptions based on others’ assumptions, which I learned to accept. And though I believe I’m glimpsing a horizon beyond the emotional and spiritual storm I’ve recently endured, countless questions remain – questions I should have asked long ago – questions of the why variety. The beauty of the horizon before me is this: it is freedom from the fear of the Truth, whatever that may be. I am free to ask why. That’s a good thing, because I’m one of those people who can’t seem to escape the whys in life.
Now, I have a confession: I don’t know much about God. In fact, when I pray these days, my first words are usually, “God, whoever you are…”. It’s a liberating way to approach the transcedent. I think it might be something like the way Moses approached the burning bush. Such a feeling of vastness, of mystery, of the other Moses must have experienced in that place. I wonder if it’s similar to the way I feel when I gaze at the stars. Looking at the stars usually inspires me to think, “God, I don’t even really know you, do I?” The more I meditate on the wonder of it all, the more I see that I’ve traded interminable Creation and the resplendent Heart within for little better than a cosmic rule-maker.
I’ve grown weary of recreating God. It’s too much work, and the shrunken God of my mind and my world doesn’t hold up anyway. I’m letting go. I’m ok with God being whoever God is.
What does that mean? What does it look like? We’ll talk about that another time.