Here’s an expression I abhor: one true God. Do you believe in the one true God? One true God: a shibboleth of the evangelical converted, and, for me, my first clue to run like hell for heathen territory where at least the wine runs thick and the sins taste sweet.
It’s the certainty of the phrase that turns me off as well as its thinly veiled neurosis–it’s not enough to say “one God” or “true God?” We need two adjectives for good measure?
Hold on. Rewind. Let me start over and turn down the snark level a bit. Let me start with a story.
This morning when I opened up my laptop I found a bright yellow “Stickie Note” on the desktop screen. I never use “Stickie Notes,” so I knew my husband had jotted down something he wanted to remember. I’m a Gen X kid. He’s a Millenial baby. Apparently, somewhere in the narrow space between our two generations, the younguns moved from real Sticky Notes to their technological offspring the “Stickie Note.” I didn’t even know my computer possessed such a program. His typed note read: God is an opening, not a closing, to the mystery.
“What is that? Who said that?” I asked later.
“You did,” he said. “I didn’t want you to forget.”
I forgot. God is an opening, not a closing, to the mystery.
Then I remembered. Last week my husband and I sat talking about my discomfort with Protestant evangelicalism. I kept reworking my words, trying to articulate what I feel viscerally first and intellectually second. I just, I stumbled, I can’t…why do they need to be so SURE? To say they know what God is, what God wants, what the Bible means. It lacks…..humility. It lacks….imagination.
I was thinking of the neuroscientist, David Eagleman, telling my students to “dethrone thyselves.” Or I was thinking of Ferdinand de Saussure, “Nearly all institutions, it might be said, are based on signs, but these signs do not directly evoke things.”
I don’t feel anything when someone says one true God except suspicious. Nothing is evoked for me at all, no image, no song. I feel closest to believing in God when God eludes me, when God lives one step beyond my comprehension, or God cracks open a timeworn window and I must squint my eyes against even the thinnest sliver of unbounded light.
An opening. A crack. Quicksilver slant of light. I buy Christian Wiman’s collection of essays, “My Bright Abyss.” Even the juxtaposition in the title of the book seems to speak to my conundrum: how can we know God except to know God less and less? Wiman writes
–so too is faith folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed, mental product. Those who cling to the latter are inevitably left with nothing to hold on to, or left holding on to some nothing into which they have poured the best parts of themselves. Omnipotent, eternal, omniscient–what in the world do these rotten words mean?
Even more rotten words: one true God. Because if we can say “one true God” we can say “one true marriage” or “one true race” or “one true government” or “one true gender” or on, and on, and on like that forever.
Today I asked my students, “What is the purpose of a seminar discussion?” Today was their last of the semester. They answered quickly, and I cringed to hear my voice inside theirs: to leave the classroom with more questions than answers.
That’s how I want my discussions and dialogues to always go–more questions, more questions, more. That’s how I want my students to live. And I guess that’s how I want my God too. I want the comfort of incertitude, the solace of knowing I may, at the end of my life, disappear into mystery, into a voice that softly chastens you were wrong, that I may disappear into my own failures and errors, those shadowy places where my soul tried to point me during my earthly heartaches, petty and profound alike, that these darknesses in my life were like the underbelly of the sun, that I might need a divine imagination to turn the world completely over in order to see the bright backside.
Or in Wiman’s words, Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us. It follows that any notion of God that is static is–since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge –blasphemous.
Tell me you don’t know and I’ll follow you anywhere.