The Agnosticism of Love and Theology

“For we see in a mirror dimly.” This should be the motto for every theologian and lover. When it comes down to it, given the complexity of human experience and the grandeur of the universe, we don’t know much.


Whenever I teach theology, I remind my students that we live in a universe with 125 billion galaxies, each of which has millions, if not billions, of solar systems like our own. There are more suns than we can imagine, and a black hole some 17 billion times the size of our sun. We can’t claim to know much about God in such a marvelous and wonderful universe, and frankly that is good news.
Given the wonders of life, we are confronted by two interdependent and contrasting realities:


• If God is omnipresent, then everything can be an avenue to divine knowledge. All things speak of God. Every place is the center of revelation if God is omnipresent. This gives us permission to take seriously our own experience, the sacraments and practices of our religious traditions, and our holy scriptures. It allows us to assert that Jesus reveals God’s moral nature, even if divine creativity is beyond our understanding.
• If God is infinite beyond imagination, then nothing can fully describe God. Our dogmas are finite, imperfect, and subject to constant revision. There is no room for dogmatism and unbending orthodoxy nor any kind of liturgical, ecclesiastical, or scriptural fundamentalism. As Paul says, “we know in part.” Every theologian, pope, and spiritual leader should have the words “I could be wrong” affixed to each pronouncement, sermon, and text. God is not a Christian, nor is God a Hindu or Muslim.


Augustine once stated that if you think you know it, it isn’t God. A living God reveals much but is also simply beyond our ability to fathom; God is on the go and so are we. The deconstruction of dogmatism and unbending principles is good news: to affirm this would be a first step in stopping religious and political violence and persecution. Yes, God is here. Yes, we are chosen by God. But, God is over there as well, and others are chosen, and our deepest truths only scratch the truths of reality. Deconstructionism is always balanced by construction – the creation of images of God that can flexibly guide our spiritual pathways.


Now I am a theologian, and a process theologian at that! And, that means, I make a lot of claims about the world and God’s ways with creation. I affirm that God’s power is contextual, relational, and persuasive; that creation has neither beginning nor end; that humans experience freedom and creativity; that the universe is evolving and revelation is universal; that the world is relational and value-laden apart from human experience; that God is not all-determining and that power is shared rather than coercive. Still, process theology itself is in process, emerging, evolving, and revising itself. This is the best model for theology: humility, the type of humility we see in Jeremiah’s protest of his youth and inexperience. We are all inexperienced in the ways of God. To use the language of Martin Buber, to think we know God fully is to make God an “object,” and “It,” and not the “Thou” from whom all blessings flow.


This same agnosticism is true of love. When someone says they have you figured out, run for the hills! You are no longer a living, breathing reality, but an object to be analyzed and controlled. While I appreciate the need for the DSM identifications in psychiatry and psychology, I recognize that no one can be reduced to a diagnosis or Myers-Briggs Personality Type (like introvert or extrovert). Even when the diagnosis is accurate, we are more than any word can be describe. When someone has us pegged or we claim to understand another fully, we have made them an “It” and not a “Thou,” an object and not a holy other.


The reality of otherness is the greatest inspiration in the adventure of love. Moreover, we are “others” to ourselves: we see in a mirror dimly even when it comes to our own self-awareness. We are also more than we can imagine. Despite Paul’s affirmation, I am not sure that we will ever know in “full,” even in heaven. If heaven is to be meaningful, it must involve surprises and adventures as well. Adventure always implies agnosticism and the lure of previously unknown and uncharted frontiers.


Today’s scripture calls us to live humbly relationally and theologically. A holy agnosticism can be fun and it is never boring as we are lured from familiarities toward the ever-widening horizon of God’s love.- Bruce Epperley.

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