Water. What do I know of it? Do I know much? Is what I know enough to thought of as real knowledge? And what are the implications of me not knowing as much as can be known? Can a simple glass of water give me true knowledge about water’s nature?
It’s an image that came to me this morning as I thought about what I know of God as compared with what I don’t.
My working assumption is that God’s scale of being is unimaginable even for the best of saints, theologians, artists, and philosophers. The wielders of metaphor, geniuses and dullards alike, all spit in the wind when it comes to presenting what I’m simply calling “scale of being.” Pick your word: immense, gigantic, colossal, universal, enormous…whatever. They are pin-pricks in the ocean. I heard the story of God imagined as a large man looking at a small ball in his hand, and in the story-teller’s dream the man was God, contemplating all He had made. C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, juxtaposes a sprawling, gray, depression-filled hell with a world so “real” as to be impossible for the “ghosts” from hell to exist there in the simplest of ways. But the scale of being in Lewis’ heaven becomes shockingly apparent when it’s revealed that the bus on which the ghosts arrived for their tour of heaven slipped in through a crack in Heaven’s ground no thicker than a blade of grass. Now hell is the pin-prick in not just one ocean, but a universe of oceans.
Pile them on, metaphor on metaphor, ever-expanding, and God’s scale of being is more, greater, further, and more encompassing.
No scientist, I revert to Wikipedia and other sources when I dare to wonder about something in science. There is a universe of knowledge about water out there, and the assumption is that we have not yet begun to crack the deeper mysteries of all its worlds. Water’s life in the chemical world is lost on me, as is all the implications of its existence on other planets, other parts of the universe. The life of the oceans is largely unknown to me, except perhaps for the occasional PBS special.
But here’s the thing: what I know of water is good information, and frankly, keeps me alive in bankable ways. What I know of water is not exhaustive, but it’s true. And I can live on it.
Sometimes, the temptation arrives in the form of this thought: what we don’t know of God is far greater than what we do. And the sheer volume of what we don’t know calls the credibility of what we think we know into question. Could it be that our knowledge is so small that were we to discover the true “scale of being” of God, we would immediately toss everything we know, striking our heads in the proverbial gesture of “A-ha!”? It is both a comforting and terrifying thought.
But then I remember two things: first, Francis Schaeffer used to argue that true knowledge doesn’t have to be exhaustive. Substantial knowledge is enough to live on, as long as the substantial knowledge is true knowledge.
Secondly, I remember water.
I frankly know little about it. But I know enough to know that without it, I’ll die.
God, teach me what I need to live, and give me patience with the rest…