Our Tuesday morning lectionary study group is frequently a source for a new post. Last week we worked over the story of Elijah’s departure in a chariot of fire and Jesus’ transfiguration in the company of Moses and Elijah.
What struck me was how quickly the conversation turned toward rationalization. We are such a pragmatic, rational people that it seems almost impossible to dive into mystery without trying to unravel it so that it can be explained in logical, rational ways. The parts of the stories we could not explain were laid aside as “odd.” Otherwise, they were sliced and diced into edible chunks small enough to be fed to a congregation as bits of meat to help them better understand their own lives in relation to God.
My Orthodox friends are a little more adept at grasping the idea of mystery. At least they claim they are, although I sometimes wonder if proclaiming something as mystery is a way to avoid serious conversation about it. However, back to our Tuesday group made up of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists, these mysterious stories led to questions about where one would find truth in them, which led to questions about the nature of truth. It sounds a lot more intellectual than it was.
Our fundamentalist brothers and sisters are quite certain that absolute truth is revealed in scripture, and they know what it is. Local letters to the editor include furious rants against relativism through which is God’s absolute not only denied, but nothing at all can stand on solid ground. Parenthetically, the editorial page of our local paper is often the place where religious diatribe takes place. The letters published there reflect a real fear. Nothing in this world can be trusted. Everything is unstable, and unpredictable change shakes the foundations of what we thought life was supposed to be. If even the inerrant truth of God’s Word as recorded in the bible can be challenged, then there is nothing left and life itself is meaningless. Therefore, the inerrant truth of God’s Word as recorded in the bible must be defended against the heretics and antichrists of liberal/progressive theology. Knowing that I am an Episcopalian, it’s not uncommon for my more conservative acquaintances to lob Bishop Spong hand grenades in my direction as proof that the Episcopal Church has gone after the way of Satan. Good grief!
As for our Tuesday morning group, we are agreed that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that it is Godly truth, but we are able only to approximate it. Speaking only for myself, I am convinced that absolute truth lies within the context of the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that I am unalterably a trinitarian Christian. Having said that, everything else is provisional knowledge knocking on the door of holy mystery. It’s a risky place to be, and I can understand why many are uncomfortable with it. It requires, to paraphrase Paul, hope in that which cannot be apprehended by our senses or intellect, and faith that, while we have no choice but to live through unstable, unpredictable times, we are on a path that is headed in a godward direction. “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” This refrain from a popular hymn captures that idea, at least for me. And, for me, the worst quicksand of all is the claim to possess the absolute truth because it’s in the bible.