William Blake once  said that  should a fool persist in his folly eventually that folly would turn to wisdom. 

The same might be said about the agnosticism of our time. Our problem is not that we question too much but that we question too little, especially about the things  of God. In the end, we struggle religiously not  because we are enlightened and courageous enough to ask the hard questions but because we are afraid to face the hardest question of all, namely, the one about God’s holiness and otherness. In the end, we are not  very open-minded at all and this constitutes our real problem in terms of believing in God. We do not have trouble believing in God because we are finally courageous enough to look reality square in the face, but for the opposite reason, we do not persist far enough in our courage and questioning.

What is implied here?

Many  of us today, for all kinds  of reasons, are uncomfortable with God’s holiness as Scripture defines  it when it tells us that God is totally beyond our imaginations, concepts, language, and feelings: “God’s ways are not our ways.” If the Scriptures are to be believed then God can never be figured out or second-guessed. You can shake your fist at God or you can bend your knee in worship of God, but you  can never understand God.   Thus, at the end of the day, whether you are staring at  blessing or curse, graciousness or suffering, love or hate, life or death, you can only say this of God: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Other,  Other, Other! Totally beyond anything I can say, think, imagine, or feel is God.  God’s ways are not my ways!”

That notion, however, is easily lost.  Like Job’s friends,  we like to compare God’s ways to our ways and, on that  basis, find God unacceptable. We do this in all kinds of sincere and well-intentioned ways; for example, we say things like: “If there  were an all­ loving and all-powerful God,  this suffering would not exist!” “God could never  permit this!” This cannot make sense!” “An all-powerful God  would do something about this!”

These  expressions, and the attitudes that go  with them, seem  enlightened, sympathetic, and courageous; certainly most people would say that  of Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which says precisely those things. Religiously, however, this is problematic. Why?

Because when we think like this, in effect, we are creating God in our own image and likeness. We are using the same set of categories to understand God as to understand ourselves. By doing that we are shrinking an infinite God to fit our finite, human understanding. While that might see enlightened, courageous, and a way of making God more sympathetic to our human plight, it has devastating underside. It eventually leads to atheism because whenever the full holiness (the otherness) of God is reduced, be it for whatever reason, we are ultimately left with an impoverished deity who is not  worth believing in.

Simply put, a God whose thoughts  are our thoughts and whose ways are our ways, a God who can be understood, is eventually not an object  for reverence or worship. Such a God is too small, too ordinary, and too impotent to be an object of faith.  Likewise such a God can neither be fully Creator nor  Redeemer  and will be seen as an opium for those who lack real intellectual courage. If God is no holier than the way he or she is thought-of by many people today, then  Karl Marx is right. God is a projection of the human mind and mystery is simply another word for ignorance.

Small wonder we struggle with faith and belief  in God  – we think of understanding as faith and already know the limits of understanding! To truly believe in God,  we must have a sense of awe and that is predicated on God as being conceived of as so awe-filled and holy that we want spontaneously, like Isaiah, to purge ourselves with burning coals before approaching such mystery. 

Our problem is that we do not contemplate because we are convinced that there is nothing worth contemplating. We’ve already had a look and we know what’s  there! And so God becomes  for us not so much a holy fire as a complex equation that we have more or less understood.

Because  of   this  we  are  often  fixated at  a  certain level  of  agnosticism, of questioning. We wonder, seek, and courageously  ask questions, up to a point – that point where God’s ways are no longer  our ways, that point where understanding runs dry and faith has to take over, and that point where mystery enters  and we are asked to take off our shoes before it. There we stop  questioning.

But  faith  never  demands that  we  stop  asking hard  questions. It demands the opposite, namely, that we persist in our questioning (beyond the limits set by intellectual fashion  and the empiricism of our  age) until our folly turns to wisdom.