The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher Priest-in-charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

Scientists are perpetually discovering new information about the universe in which we live. Advances in astronomy are mind boggling. Just recently a planet with some similarities to Earth has been discovered "only" 11 light-years (that's a mere 64 trillion miles) from our solar system. The new world is named Ross 128b (the star is known as Ross 128), and it is now the second-closest planet yet detected that may have a surface temperature similar to Earth's. (The Tennessean 11/16/07)

With all this new information it would seem proper to admire ourselves when it comes to knowledge of the Universe. But scientists have determined that we can't see 97.9 percent of the Universe. If you were to ask the astronomer, "What do you know?" the answer would probably be, "Not very much."

The same can be said about our understanding of God. We have attempted to record everything we think we know about God in the hope of achieving some certitude about our religious life. Books, doctrines, and creeds have been written with an assortment of books included in the Bible. In an attempt to "get it right" we may have declared these writings to be the Word of God, even though people with limited knowledge wrote the books with limited experience with God. It would be comforting if we could say that the Four Gospels and Paul's letters were literally true, but they were written by people who hadn't met Jesus. The earliest writings of the New Testament were written by Paul who only knew Jesus from a vision on the road to Damascus. By the time the Gospels were written Jesus had been dead more than 40 years. Since Jesus wrote nothing the words of Jesus in the scriptures are words placed on his lips from the experience of the Jesus movement at that time. So like the scientists, theologians and biblical scholars can ask the question, "What do we know about God and Jesus?" To be truthful, our answer would be similar to the scientists' answer, "Not very much?"

Some Christians are uncomfortable with this lack of certitude, but certitude is the opposite of faith. A living faith is discovered in a personal relationship with the Ground of our Being. It is in our inability to answer all our questions that we are filled with awe and wonder about the life and love we experience.

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A transcendent consciousness that is too expansive to capture or define somehow enters our experience in our limited consciousness. It becomes another of those miracles that occur but can't be fully explained.

What little we know about God includes the experience of God as Love. We've only scratched the surface of what that love can mean. Fortunately, through faith in this awe and wonder and our experience we grow in understanding of what love can mean. With this new found humility we discover that we are One together in this world whether or not we acknowledge that truth. When tempted to limit God's love only to Christians we learn that there are no limits to what the One we call God can do. Mystics, for example, of the great religions experience the same joy and wonder through their practices just as we do in our religious practices. God cannot be confined to accommodate the limits of our understanding.

Don't be discouraged that we know so little. Our understanding of God is evolutionary just as the universe is evolutionary. Once we seem to "get it right" there will be more. Enjoy the miracle of growing even at an elderly age. We don't have to maintain our childhood certitude. Wrestle with adult ambiguity with its impenetrable mysteries. As Edward Hays has written, "If you have doubts riding piggyback on your faith, don't be anxious. Doubt doesn't imply a failure of love, but rather the opposite. To question and doubt implies a loving trust in the unconditional love of God."