You are a human, a highly evolved sentient species composed mostly of water, oxygen, carbon, and a few dozen other lesser chemicals. All in all, you consist of about 10 octillion atoms – give or take a few million – that miraculously hold together. I, “homo sapiens” that I am, have a nearly identical make-up as yours: We hold more than 99% of our individual genetic material in common.
Yet, we do not think of ourselves – or of others – in purely genetic terms? When we meet, marry, give birth to, have a beer with, or share a meal with someone, our interaction is not scientific. “Have you met George? He’s a pleasant organism, about 63% water and one of the most charming carbon-based collection of atoms you will ever meet.”
Of course not. We know others, and are known by others, by means of relationships. “This is my friend; my wife; my child; my partner,” we say instead. “I am known as a husband, a father, a son, a nephew, an uncle, a friend, writer, and storyteller.” This is who I am – not just a biological biped – and this is how I am known – not just by the examination of my genetic composition. I think it is the same with God.
I remember sitting in theology class, when I was much younger, eager to figure out all there was to know about God, to pin deity down like a formaldehyde-drenched frog. Many of my teachers only emboldened me further, speaking of theology “as the science of God,” and of how theologians should gather the scattered, ambiguous facts about God and construct them into a logical system.
Words like “omnipotence, immutability,” and “omniscience” were tossed about in description of God as if we were theological geneticists. I was exactly as the inexperienced, ambitious plumber who saw Niagara Falls for the first time. Beholding it, he turned to his friends and said, “Yep, I can fix this,” unaware, seemingly, that nothing was broken. There was only wonder to enjoy.
With a little time we learn that God cannot be adequately explained, dissected, or understood. To do so would be an attempt at explaining love, the wonder of childhood, the power of attraction, or dreams deep in the night. It is mystery. It is wonder. This does not mean that God cannot be known, just that God defies all classroom explanation.
God refuses to be a subject of our scientific experiments or philosophical arguments, and has chosen the most human, accessible form of communication: Relationship. God is Parent. God is Sibling. God is ever-abiding Spirit, a constant Companion, and a “Friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Indescribable and incomprehensible? Yes. Unknown and unreachable? No.
Maybe we can replace our technical jargon with the vocabulary of friendship and communion, for God is best experienced through relationship and trust, not analysis. Besides, any God that can be explained, held in our hands as it where, is not God. That is an idol.