Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Theology at Sunday dinner

I finish with opening prayer at a Sunday dinner not long ago, and Pieter, our first-grade grandson, promiscuous with oddly bedeviling utterances, suddenly asks, “Does Ian know God?”

Ian is his little brother, maybe eight months old. He babbles divinely, or so his grandpa thinks; but he hasn’t come anywhere near to delivering a decipherable word. Does Ian know God?

My first reaction is take second place here—or third. After all, I’m only a grandpa, not a parent. They’re the ones who should answer, right? Besides, I really don’t know.

So I’m wondering what they’re going to say—Mom and Dad. Me?—I’m thinking probably yes, because Ian was there last, of any of us oldsters around the table. Not that long ago he was closer to infinity than any of us. “Sure,” I think, “sure he knows God” Besides, he’s still several months away from knowing anything about sin—maybe more. But then, I’m prejudice on that score too, and I don’t change his too often stinky diapers.

But later I ask myself whether any of us really knows God? It’s a kind of spellbinding question really, and all sorts of good, sweet Christians would thunder out the joy of own intimate proximity, I’m sure. But just a day or so ago, I ran across this stunning line: “The traditions of theology that speak to me undercut the assumption that the nature of divine reality is readily definable.” Woah! Me too. More and more I’m thinking we’re on really shaky ground when we think we know it all. Maybe I read too much O’Connor.

“Well, Pieter,” I could have said, “I suppose little Ian knows God just about as well as any of us do.” He’d have looked up at me as if his grandpa was nuts. But I wouldn’t have liked to parse that out for him just then, not with the burgers getting cold; and just dropping that idea out there in front of his questioning eyes would have been a form of child abuse, even if it is, in a way, true.

Here’s another stunner, same source: “Augustine put it best, cautioning that anything that one understands is not God.” Double woah. I got to admit I like that, but it wouldn’t have made good family table conversation either, methinks.

I guess the answer is that God is both imminent—he’s here and Ian probably knows him—and he’s transcendent—he’s way, way beyond Ian, and way beyond you, Pieter, and way beyond your grandfather the blogger, and your great-great-great grandfather the erudite seminary professor. He’s beyond everyone of us.

But for right now, I suppose—lest we forget this is Sunday dinner—the very best answer to Pieter’s perplexing question is probably the one Karl Barth offered when the learned theologian was asked by some aspiring preacher, "Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all?"

The story goes like this—Barth said, "The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!"

Does Ian know God, Pieter? Hmmmm. Don’t know if he does. But then, I don’t know that I do either.

What I do know is this: God sure as anything, knows Ian. And you, Pieter. And me too. Isn’t that a hoot?

Let’s eat.


Marie said...

I like that answer. My kids ask me questions about God so often, asking them in ways I don't know how to answer. Their world is so concrete, and God is not. And I think I know quite a bit about God until they start asking me questions. My five year old asks a lot of questions about why God doesn't do for us things that we ask Him to do. He can do anything, easily. Why doesn't he help me out of this swing?

Stacie H said...

Great story Jim. :)