Things of God
Testament Reading: Wisdom of Solomon 7:21-27
Responsive Reading: Psalm 139:1-18
Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:9-13
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."
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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