CAN I KNOW FOR CERTAIN?
The Rev. Dr. Robert R. Hansel
want to remind you of an old story--a story that, I’m
sure, all of you have heard at some point. The thing
about old stories is that they become old by being
told over and over.
And the reason they are told and retold is because they
contain a lot of truth and insight--enough that people
want to retain
and remember them. Well this story is about a community
of blind people in India who wanted very much to know
They had heard all about these creatures but, of course,
had never seen one. They selected a group of six blind
to be taken where there was an elephant that they could
inspect by touching it--and then they were to report
back to all their
blind friends. The first one to return had touched only
a tusk and, therefore, reported with confidence, “The
elephant is long, hard, and has a sharp point.” The
second witness laughed off that report because he had
felt the creature’s
tail. He indicated, with assurance, “The elephant
is like a rope with a tassel at the end." Each of the
the earlier statements and, depending on which part of
the elephant they had felt, reported that it was like
a high wall, a large
fan, a fat wiggly snake, or the trunk of a tree. Each
report was accurate up to a point, but none contained
the whole truth,
even though the witness in each case was absolutely certain….
search for God is an important and commendable enterprise.
There can’t be too much of it, in my opinion, but what
I want to talk with you about today is a basic problem connected
with our persistent search for a logical and compelling statement
of our Christian Faith that needs to be recognized. The
danger in human beings seeking to find a logical, rational,
believable version of God is that we just might wind up with
a “do-it-yourself” theory
that sounds great but has nothing to do with the way God really
is. The problem is that this notion of “searching
for God” is
not a one-way street, an activity that proceeds strictly out
of our own limited insight and understanding. It’s not
like God is lost or that God is hiding--so that somehow it’s
up to us human beings to figure out the Truth all on our own. The
reality is that our search to discover the basis for our
faith in God is at all times matched and far-exceeded by God’s
Faith in Us.
Christian Faith is, technically, a “revealed” religion.
That is, what we know and believe about the nature and purposes
of God have been revealed to us over centuries of time. No
one sat down and dreamed up the story of God coming among us in
person of Jesus. No one decided that it would be a good idea
if God would be pleased whenever those who had more than
enough resources to share helped the poor. No one calculated that
extent of forgiving one’s neighbor was properly “seventy
times seven” occasions. All this insight and information
about God didn’t just pop into the mind or imagination
of some great thinker while he or she was meditating on the
mysteries of God. Rather, God revealed all these things to
us because God
really, really wants us to know, understand, and have faith
in God. Why does God bother? Because God has absolute unconditional
faith in us, in spite of all evidence of history that suggest
you and I may not be very worthy of such faith.
central question raised in the text of Psalm 8 is
this one (addressed to God) asking: “What is mankind
that You should care so much about us?” The
text contrasts our puniness and insignificance with God’s limitless
power, our fickleness and instability with God’s constant dependability,
our own dullness of sight with God’s boundless creativity.
the psalmist is not engaging in mental gymnastics or idle speculation.
He is speaking on the basis of hard evidence, his experience of the
world and of nature. In short, he is sharing some things that
have been revealed
over a lifetime of observation. Just listen, once again, to what the
writer of this Psalm has to say:
I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
the son of man, that You should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels;
You adorn him with glory and honor;
You give him mastery over the works of your hands;
You put all things under his feet…O Lord our God,
How exalted is your name in all the World!
are not impersonal, abstract theories about God. The writer
is sharing very personal
observations of recurring
patterns that frame
his very existence. He reflects on his faith in the light
of what God has shown
to him. He starts not with his need to find God but, instead,
ongoing effort to find us and to show us God’s own
nature and purpose toward us.
you go to your favorite bookstore, you will find shelves
of literature about mankind’s search for God, all
sorts of Bible study, meditation guides, and spiritual
that purport to offer you a shorter journey in your
quest to discover God. You may very well find some resources
there that are insightful and helpful. At the same time,
you need to recognize that almost
all of it is sheer speculation. Who among us is ready to
claim complete understanding of the mind of God? Who among
us has the right to claim that we can make infallible
statements about what God thinks about this or that contemporary
here is, to me, a fascinating thing to ponder: Even
as we acknowledge that the mystery of God
is always beyond
comprehension or discovery,
opposite is true of God’s knowledge of each one
of us! God’s knowledge
of you is not partial, but complete. God understands
everything about us, our innermost thought, without any
or distortion of any kind. Still,
even with all our faults and shortcomings, God loves
us without any preconditions. God will never abandon
matter how disappointing our thoughts and behavior
may be. God patiently supports us and awaits our response
of trust--no matter how long it takes. God has absolute
Faith in us.
Here’s the point I’m trying to
make: Our Faith in God has its beginning, if it is to
be more than some faulty human philosophical
speculation, in an
awareness and appreciation of God’s Faith in us--that
we can and will stand together and, with forbearance
and forgiveness, exercise humility, listening
to one another and learning together.
we respond to God’s knowledge of us, God’s presence
always and everywhere surrounding us, God’s creative
spirit sustaining and maintaining everything that is
or ever will be, then we are able to share in the wisdom,
the calm, and the wonder of the writer of Psalm 8.
is not the product of our search for God but our recognition
of the fact
that, during every moment of our life, we are constantly
encountering God’s faith in us. That awareness
and its celebration are the only basis for a living
Faith. That orientation alone is the foundation for
generously, and responsibly.
I promise you, God has faith that every one of us has
the capacity and opportunity to arrive at exactly that
gracious, appreciative, and accurate perspective.
believes in you.
©2003 Calvary Episcopal Church
--From “God’s Faith
in Us” by The Rev. Dr. Robert R. Hansel