Nine years ago I was asked to share some thoughts about what it meant to be a conference minister with my peers. What follows is a portion of what I shared.
As all of us walk the spiritual journey that goes [from orientation] through disorientation, no matter how effective our spiritual gyroscopes have been, we come through those experiences changed people and congregations. This new orientation is not a returning to a former existence, but a continuing journey on toward the shalom and wholeness that God promises all creatures.
I find that a tempered faith needs three characteristics to guide it. A more seasoned faith must exhibit a certain humility that acknowledges our finitude as well as our best intentions. I have found the phrase “provisional certitude” to be a helpful way of understanding and describing this humility. We must candidly acknowledge that we do not have all the answers (even as conference ministers!) while at the same time not being paralyzed into indecision because of that reality. With appropriate humility that we may not be entirely correct in our journey, we move forward with enough certitude that we can function, but with a measure of provisionality that enables us to hear further correction and acknowledge our limited vision.
Equally important is to exhibit a holy curiosity. There is something magical and invigorating about a child-like faith and energy. As we have been about this pilgrimage for some time, we tend to become jaded and somewhat wary and weary. We lose our sense of wonder and awe about God’s creation and God’s cause. But children are not that way. And we need to be reminded that this is God’s cause, and God will supply sufficient energy for us to witness to the dawning Kingdom.
Do not misunderstand. This is not the same as a curiosity that wants to do something merely because we can (Micah 2:1b). This is a curiosity that seeks to discover what it is that God wants us to do, and then to be sufficiently energized by God’s power to do it.
And finally, we need to live a life that is propelled by hope. We need to remember that on this journey we are ultimately being pulled toward heaven by a holy gravitational force called hope. The calling that we are about as conference ministers is worth doing even if there appear to be no immediate rewards, even if it appears to be primarily hard work (and sometimes heartache). We continue on the journey because this is how God has called us to witness to and participate in the saving work of creation and its creatures.
I share this because my most recent two-week sabbatical readings have confirmed these thoughts from nine years ago. The readings I attempted to absorb during these two weeks in September reflected on the interface between science and religion. Clearly one of the acknowledgments among many scientists can be summarized in the words of the late Richard Feynman. As a physicist who taught about quantum mechanics, he observed that there is an ever “expanding frontier of ignorance” before us. The more we know, the more mystery there is before us.
In writing about his interactions with Feynman, the author Herman Wouk was reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:11, which he translates as, “He has made everything beautiful in its time and has put the universe in their hearts, except that a man will not find the work that the Lord has wrought from beginning to end.” The Jewish Tanakh translates this same verse as, “He brings everything to pass precisely at its time: He also puts eternity in their minds, but without man every guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass.”
The one thing a growing number of scientists can agree upon, when they exercise appropriate humility, is that the more we know, the more we know we do not yet know. And so it is for us as Christians as we think about God. The more we experience of God and God’s mercy in our lives, the more we realize that God is still very much beyond our comprehension.