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The Deep Things of God


Old Testament Reading: Wisdom of Solomon 7:21-27

Responsive Reading: Psalm 139:1-18

New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:9-13

Texts: Isa Upanisad 4-8. "That One, though never stirring, is swifter than thought.... Though standing still, it overtakes the others who are running....It stirs and it stirs not; it is far and likewise near. It is inside of all this, and it is outside of all this. And he who beholds all things in the Self, and the Self in all beings, he never turns away from it. When to a man who understands, the Self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity? He encircled all, bright, incorporeal, scatheless, without muscles, pure, untouched by evil; a seer, wise, omnipresent, self-existent, he disposed all things rightly for eternal years."

The Gospel of Thomas, saying 50. "Jesus said: 'If they say to you, "From where have you originated?" say to them, "We have come from the Light, where the Light has originated through itself. It [stood] and it revealed itself in their image." If they say to you, "Who are you?" say: "We are his sons and we are the elect of the Living Father." If they ask you: "What is the sign of your Father in you?" say to them, "It is a movement and a rest."

Trinity Sunday! Surely a Sunday made for theologians! A Sunday when we theologians can bring out our shiny baubles and no one will gainsay us! (Karl Barth used to say he could imagine the reaction of the angels of God whenever they chanced to spy him; they must elbow one another and laugh, "Look! Here comes Karl Barth with his little red wagon full of Dogmatics!") Though God created theologians, it was theologians who created the doctrine of the Trinity in order to try to safeguard the Mystery of the Godhead. And this day has been set aside to commemorate that fine piece of theology. So, my brothers and sisters, this is the day that theologians have made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

How is theology possible? Have you ever paused to ask how we can pretend to know anything at all about God? There are basically three ways that people have claimed to derive knowledge of God. They are propositional revelation (i.e., the claim that God has imparted information about himself, e.g., in the Bible); philosophical speculation (the reasonings of people like Plato and Aristotle as to what the Divine must or might be like); and mystical intuition (the inferences drawn from religious encounters by people like Meister Eckhart or Friedrich Schleiermacher).

But do any of these things really tell us about God? I am not sure they do. At least I doubt any of them yield infallible information for the intellect. But that is no failure. What they actually do, and what we really need them to do, is to provide fuel for the fire of the imagination. And it is the imagination that is our channel to the experience of God. For the nature of worship is wonder. It is awe. It is even holy terror if one gets close enough to the border of the sacred mountain where God is!

If theological speculation leaves the mind barren, it has still done its job, and done it well, if it fires the imagination. But can we, even in the religious imagination, do more than merely brush up against the edges of his ways? Dare we speak of penetrating unto the deep things of God?

I will admit that the triumphs of the human mind might embolden us! We might gain some confidence from the achievements of space exploration. We can, after all, comb the surfaces of far-away Neptune and Triton! We can send robot vessels to sample the dust of Mars, to take the temperature of Venus, to measure the Quasars! We can launch arrows at the heart of infinity!

But hold! To plumb the depths of God is a far greater task! For here we are dealing with the Infinity that is beyond infinity! Here we treat of that Entity beyond being!

But having indicated the absurdity, the futility of going forward, let us wax bold to touch the Ark! Let us prate on about the deep things of God. I have chosen this morning to expound some of the ideas in saying 50 of the Gospel of Thomas, amplified by kindred texts from the Wisdom of Solomon and the Isa Upanisad.

In our text from Thomas, Jesus informs his disciples of their true origin in God. And what he says of God is quite striking. Here is the answer to the child's question about creation: "Mommy, Daddy, where did everything come from?" That is a good question, for Jesus says we must become like little children, we must ask the questions of children, if we are ever to find our way into the Kingdom of God. His answer is that you have come from the place of the divine Light.

The Light, that is God, stood. That is, it rose from its primordial rest and began to create. It created human beings in its own image. "It revealed itself in their image." If we are created in God's image, then he is revealed in our image, and we are the image of the invisible God. But that is not quite good enough for the indefatigable curiosity of the child. He wants next to know who created God? The young child means it. He thinks perhaps there is a prior creator, perhaps a whole chain of them reaching backward in infinite regress.           

But the cynical adult who asks this question is like the Sadducees who tried to trap Jesus in the question about the woman who was widowed seven times: whose wife would she be in the resurrection? The adult has despaired of an answer, because his categories have become confused. He foolishly imagines that if there is a supra-worldly reality then it must be explicable in this-worldly terms. Asking this question, he is smug like the blind man who sneeringly dismissed the reality of color when no sighted person could explain it to him.

I suggest that the child's question of who created God works like a Zen koan, one of those unanswerable conundrums ("What is the sound of one hand clapping?") that pushes reason to the end of its rope and forces it to let go and leap into another realm of apprehension. The answer is Enlightenment.

"The Light originated of itself."  God is self-generated, self-begotten, as the Upanisad says, "self-existent" - in other words, not contingent on any thing, but rather that Reality on which all things are contingent. Not one of the things which exist, not even the greatest among those things, but rather that Existence in which all existing things participate.  This is what made Tillich say that whoever affirms that God exists, merely exists, is denying God!

So God is not an object, he is not objectifiable. He cannot properly be spoken of at all. He, it, is too great for that. Our words are signals, pointers, symbols. If we think they are more, if we think they are descriptions of God, then they have become idols which displace God.

And we are among those symbols! "The Light stood and revealed itself in their image." Human beings, the sons and daughters of the Light, of the Living God, are the tiny intimations in object-existence of what God must be in himself.

I like the way Shankara, one of the great interpreters of the Upanisads, put this. He said the infinite Oneness of the Deity is, as it were, refracted through the prism of "limiting conditions," like light refracted by rain droplets into the beautiful fragments of the rainbow. The oneness of God is just what makes God invisible and indescribable, like the white, unrefracted daylight. He is not divisible into fragments whose finite, jagged edges one might describe. Except that he has revealed glimmers and fragments of himself in our image.

Recently Rey and I were talking about holograms, and how if you smash a glass containing a hologram, each shard somehow maintains a tiny replica of the whole image, though you may have to strain to see it. So is the image of the invisible God preserved in us. And what is that residual image of God in us? "What is the sign of your Father in you?" "It is a movement and a rest."

Here is another of the deep things of God. And it has been searched out by various delvers into the Divine Mystery over the ages. We find this truth in our readings from the Isa Upanisad, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Gospel of Thomas. "Wisdom is more mobile than any motion." For "she pervades and penetrates all things" (Wisdom 7:24). The Atman is "never stirring, yet swifter than thought; far, yet likewise near; because all things are in it, and it is in all things." Thus the one who knows this "never turns away." How could he? Where could he turn? "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!"

So God is present everywhere, thus at rest. He has already arrived at all destinations without once having travelled there! Now how can we finite bugs bear the image of that?

It is the paradox of the spiritual life. We must remain ever on the road to a fuller apprehension of God. That is the movement. But God is already where we are, where you, Becky, you, Ken, you, Lucy, are. He is where you are now. There is never a moment when you may not rest in him.  There is never a place, no matter how far you are from the end of your religious quest, where God does not meet you with the words of Jesus, "Come to me, ye weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." God is the goal, and the way, and every haven along the way.

Aristotle knew this, he whom the Medieval Church called simply "The Philosopher." He said that God is the Unmoved Mover. He is perfect, and so need never advance or strive. Yet precisely by virtue of that serene perfection he draws all beings like a magnet. They are drawn to realize their own perfection by moving ceaselessly toward the ideal of God's perfection. In so doing they will approximate their own perfection. In that journey they will realize their own destiny.

We are fleeting beings. We are made for the journey. As the Buddhists say, all is flux. There is no rest for us, save paradoxically, in resting satisfied with the task of the journey. Only on the road toward full humanity can we be happy. Thus the token of God's perfection in us is "a movement and a rest."

The deep things of God can in some measure be known, because in a strange way they are manifest in our image. Thus Trinity Sunday is profitable after all, not just an occasion for speculation. For to understand the things of God is to understand the depths of ourselves. 




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