Sometimes I Just Don't Know

By: Brian Robertson

used car salesman



Is it just me, or do some of the most miserable, the most dangerous, the most damaging, the most angry, the fastest to expouse hate, the least Christ-like people in the world seem to be the ones who will tell you, unblinkingly, what it’s all about regarding God, no questions asked, case closed?

Into this group it’s very easy these days to put the fundamentalists of other religions, people who are willing to strap a bomb onto their body and consider it honor in God’s eyes to lay sacrificial waste to a open-air shopping bazarre or crowded avenue. But, and here we must be honest, we also include those who start wars in the name of God, a God we claim as our own, people who seem hell bent (literally) on prodding God into launching what they consider to be a necessary Armageddon on the world.

There are less dramatic ways in which all this manifests, too, but let me make one point before moving on. There are people who subscribe to the theory that Jesus was a revolutionary determined to force God’s hand, who died in the absolute but devastating belief that God would, indeed, intercede for him as he hung on the cross, naked and suffering, dying at the hands of religious and political enemies. Further, others say, Judas was involved in this by playing the appointed role of the one who betrayed Jesus as part of his Teacher’s plan to kickstart God into some sort of showdown, to either put up or shut up. Personally, that is not the way I believe the entire story went down, not by a long shot, and, furthermore, it is not the way I believe we should bet our chips in today’s frightening and delicate world.

But, again, to the main point. This “I know God” attitude is not just found in a terrorist’s explosive-laden belt or, as it appears, in the dark-spirited certainties at the White House. It begins somewhere else, closer to home, and filters upwards to inform those who fly planes into buildings for the glory of God or kill over a million innocent citizens in the name of God-driven destiny. Make no mistake — it is found on a local, person-to-person level where, indeed, it first has its ugly and hidden roots.

We can keep in mind, as a kind of touchstone as we discuss things, a very basic conflict — belief vs. faith. Let me say this next part very, very clearly: What the world suffers from is too much belief and too damn little Faith.

Belief is belief in certain ideas, some of which may have Divine influence, others of which are decidedly and damagingly human. Picture if you will a checklist of concepts that one must agree on in order to be a member the exclusive club known as Christianity (although, as I say, one can substitute any number of religions). In some ways, Creeds form that checklist, but, then again, I suspect there are million of Christians who don’t just sail through the Nicene Creed without a mumble, silence, or some other version of crossed fingers at certain lines.

If a checklist of beliefs is supposed to be a signed legal contract with God, we are like the village idiot who tried to capture wind in a box and send it through the mail. Soon as you box up the wind, it’s no longer wind. More to the point, beliefs and legalistic flimflam were the things that drove Jesus daffy when he was dealing with Pharisees and others who embraced the letter of the law instead of the Spirit behind it.

God is simply larger, more mysterious, more loving and more, well God than anything of which we can conceive or write into a nicely typed legal contract. There is no belief system that can hold God any more than there is a box that can hold wind. (And don’t dismiss this silly little metaphor. It is important to note the relationship in the language of the Bible between Wind = Breath = Spirit. )

Here is my point. The spiritual voyage in Christianity is one with built-in uncertainty. We can rely on a few basic things — Jesus knew God and knew of God’s unbounded, unlimited Love and what effect that kind of Love could have on this world, i.e. the kingdom of God/heaven. If anything, that is our belief, each of us, in our own way.

From that we journey in faith, humbly encountering our own limitations, but it is those very limitations that opens us to the absolute mystery of the God. That is as it should be. As a very wise student of human behavior, the Buddha once said that we are like a soldier who has been wounded in battle by a poisoned arrow, but before we allow the arrow to be pulled out we demand to know the answers to questions such as who shot me, where was he born, how tall was he, was he rich or poor and on and on and on.

But don’t we do the same thing? Rather than begin with the potentials of the kingdom of God in this world and the stunning Mystery that is ultimately God, we are lying on the battlefield demanding answers to things that have no immediate relevancy and serve to do nothing but encourage division and debate. How is Jesus different from God? What happens to us when we die? How do we know God or can we force ourselves to know God like we force ourselves to watch a movie? How as the world created? What’s up with this evil stuff?

There are so damn many questions we often sound like an excited 3 year old wanting to know, “Why is the sky blue?” or like the Buddha’s example of the wounded soldier. Yet, as Alan Watts once said to me, life is not a question to be answered, but a reality to be lived, to be experienced. When we are hung up on life as a question to be answered, we may be able to hammer together enough beliefs to form a rickety craft that may impress or intimidate or convert others but, when the time comes, it really is very far from being sea-worthy. Or, if we choose, we live life from the mystery of a God-center within us. We keep our eyes open. We watch for God’s Presence because it will be there, not where we most expected it, but quite often in ways we never would have guessed or anticipated. We watch, full of faith, and are grateful for those glimpses that break the silence.

That, I believe, is a life of faith. It is a life of uncertainty propelled by certainty, of being aware and alive to see how God works in ourselves and in others. Now and then we may be a vessel for that action ourselves, if it suits God’s purpose, but far less often than we might like for the sake of our ego.


Rev. Brian



[that’s right on target, Brian. For too many Christianity is a set of stated propositions to which we are expected to give intellectual assent. If we do so, we are said to “believe”. Faith is something different. It’s trust. Do we live as though Jesus truly lived and what he did and said were true? And that is a matter of how we deal with the world we live in and encounter every day.]