Keeping the Faith: There’s no substitute for the real thing

Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 12:26 PM.

There is an old story told about Augustine, the early church father, and a little boy on a beach. At the time, Augustine was writing his book on the Trinity and was walking along the seashore, deep in thought. Augustine noticed the little boy pouring seawater into a hole that had been dug in the sand.

The little boy would go down to the surf, scoop up handfuls of the salty water, and quickly carry it back to the hole and dump it in. The boy did this repeatedly. Augustine finally asked the little boy what he was doing. The boy answered, “I am pouring the sea into this hole I have dug.”

Augustine smiled, and then said to the boy, “Young man, you are wasting your time. You will never get all that water into that one little hole. It cannot be done.” To which the boy responded, “Well then you are wasting your time writing about God. You will never get all of him into that one little book.”

That little boy was right. God is bigger than our books, our doctrines, our belief statements, and our theories about him — far bigger. I now resist even using the words “theory” or “explanation” when speaking of God, because these imply that we can figure it all out, when we can’t.

We get fooled into thinking that the totality of the holy, the Incarnation of God in the flesh, the essence of the Creator, can get crammed into one book, one series of sermons, one doctrinal system, or one denomination. How can that be possible when the entire universe cannot contain God?

The best we can do is use the tools at our disposal: Words, metaphors, stories, and pictures. We use these to describe our relationship with the Almighty and with his world. And even then, we are attempting to express the inexpressible. In some ways, every time we open our mouths to describe God, we commit heresy; because whatever we say will be wrong.

Like the proverbial blind men describing an elephant, we articulate our own understanding best we can, of what we cannot and have not clearly seen. But these understandings, these blind explorations, can quickly become unyielding dogma. We get locked into one perspective, discounting the views of others. Then we become more committed to our dogma than we are to our relationship with God.



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