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The Problem of Arrogance

Updated: Apr 5, 2023


We’re living in a golden age of science, technology, and discovery. In the last hundred years, we split the atom and mapped the human genome. We invented TVs, PCs, GPS, Wi-Fi, and AI; microwave ovens and mobile phones; rockets and robots. We detected gravitational waves, inferred the existence of dark matter, and sent twenty-four men to the moon. And now, it looks like we are on the cusp of a new and exciting era of space exploration. NASA and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have their sights on the moon once again, but on Mars too.

We’ve gotten good at this stuff, and we’re only getting better. And it’s made us a bit arrogant.

Our universe is “a machine governed by principles or laws,” declared Stephen Hawking, acclaimed cosmologist of Cambridge — and those laws “can be understood by the human mind.” Somewhere back there, way before this golden age even got going, we humans started believing that, by exploring and observing and experimenting and by engaging our brains and thinking rationally, there’s nothing we can’t grasp, nothing we can’t accomplish, given enough time.


The Alpha and the Omega

But there’s a problem. None of this figure-it-out-ability works if what we’re trying to grasp is God. You see, while he is present in this physical world — he is in the here and now — he also exists outside it, beyond it, above and below it.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says our Father God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). His greatness, his riches, his understanding, and his judgments are “unsearchable”; his ways are “inscrutable” (Ps. 145:3; Isa. 40:28; Rom. 11:33; Eph. 3:8). His love “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). The “skies — the entire cosmos! — can’t begin to contain him” (2 Chron. 2:6).

God will never fit into Hawking’s machine.

How could he? How could the Creator of our mind-bogglingly massive and ever-expanding universe be so small? He is infinite, eternal. He had no beginning; he will have no end.

And so, for us, God will always be a mystery. A wonderful, gigantic, sacred mystery.

And that kind of mystery is different from a run-of-the-mill mystery. A sacred mystery, teaches Richard Rohr, is not that which is “unknowable” but rather that which is “inexhaustible.” He meant that the more we discover of God, the more there will be to discover — forever.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa. 55:9).


Trying to Make God Smaller

In our drive to gain understanding (and certainty and control), though, we as a species have lost some of our willingness to accept and appreciate mystery. Mystery offends our pride a bit because it runs counter to our faith in ourselves. So, instead of accepting and appreciating (and revealing in) the sacred mysteries of God, many of us choose a different approach: we try to reduce God to something we can cram into Hawking’s machine.

The naturalists and humanists among us, those who demand to be able to understand a thing — empirically, intellectually, fully — before they’ll consider it real, simply dismiss him (or try to). They cannot comprehend God’s presence in our physical world, so they try to reduce him to nothing.

We Christians don’t take things quite that far. We believe there’s a spiritual realm. But we too hold a strong bias toward the physical world. Because we cannot see or hear or touch him with our physical senses, we struggle to grasp that God really is here, in every situation, in every moment, in our very beings; that he really is supremely interested in each of us; and that he really is outrageously loving.

And because of that struggle, many of us try to reduce God by relegating him to the spiritual realm. We try to reduce him by turning him into a theoretical god. A million-miles-away god. An only-in-heaven god. We accept that he exists, that he is somehow essential to our lives or life in general, but we just don’t believe that a personal relationship with him is possible — certainly not one that’s deep, real, heartfelt, and conversational.


Always What’s Most Important

When asked about our primary function as human beings, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

But here’s the thing — we can’t give what we haven’t yet received. We can’t love before we’ve been loved. We can’t respond as effectively to inequality and injustice and exploitation. So, we’ll never live the lives we’re meant to live without being fueled, first, by God’s outrageous love.

Receiving love. Being loved. Relationship. It’s the beginning of everything. It’s the beginning of life. It’s the beginning of us. To belong, to be cherished, it’s what we need most — even the smartest, even the toughest of us. And only God can address the totality of our needs. Only he can fill us with enough love.

By getting in close, by allowing ourselves to be loved up close — that’s how we change, grow, mature. By getting to know God, enjoying his presence, trusting him, following him — that’s how we become the people we are meant to become. That’s how we break through walls that hold us back.

Here’s the truth: in God’s love we don’t stand a chance. His grace and power are simply too powerful. When we move in close, we can’t help but change and grow and mature. When we come into his presence, his grace and power permeate every part of our lives.

And then, finally, we’re able to begin to discover wholeness and confidence —fearlessness even. We learn how to stop hurting people so much — and hurting ourselves. We begin to discover the joy and peace and purpose and significance and connection we long for — and have tended to look for everywhere else.


More Than We Ask or Imagine

When we accept God’s love, we get up in the mornings with more enthusiasm and energy and joy. We walk through our days with more confidence and well-being, with a sense of being cared for and provided for, with a sense of belonging and purpose. And we go to bed with more contentment and peace. We’re able to relax, finally. And finally, in his love, we’re able to begin feeling good about ourselves. And then, we are better able to care for the people in our lives, in our world.

Knowing God and accepting his love strengthens us, lessens fear, gives us energy and focus. It makes us better equipped to deal with hardship and struggle and failure. It makes us more robust, more durable people — able to take on what we never could have in our fragile, depleted, didn’t-know-we-were-loved states.

So, does God want a relationship with you? Absolutely. Does he care about you? Intensely. Do you need this? More than you can even imagine.



 


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