This is returning to some of my reflections from my Lake Powell expedition. One thing that happens when you are surrounded by natural beauty like that found at Lake Powell is a sense of smallness. Utter smallness. Maybe an appropriate smallness. One of my roommates would always ride as close to the rocks and canyon walls as possible, not because he was scared that he would tip, but because he liked to feel small. He found comfort in knowing that the world doesn’t revolve around him, that he doesn’t control the world. This appropriate smallness is something that I think we all like to experience. Maybe not openly and maybe not often. But from time to time, we feel good when such a feeling is experienced.
But for me, this appropriate smallness was a reminder of the mystery of God. Here I am, already having devoted three years of my life to theological education with three more on the way, and the only thing that I have become more and more certain of over this time is that the more one thinks they know about God, the more they actually have to learn. It’s like a bottomless abyss when trying to seek God, when trying to pin down his attributes, when trying to describe his salvific, redemptive work in the world. And even when we do think we have God figured out, something captures our mind and we realize we were mistaken. Not necessarily that we were wrong, but what we thought of God was still veiled in our finitude. Donald Miller captures brilliantly what I am trying to say here:
God is always changing the way I think of Him. I am not saying God Himself is changing, or that my theology is open and I blur the lines on truth; I am only saying I think I know who He is, then I figure out I don’t know very much at all. For instance, and as I have said, a lot of people believe God responds to formulas, but He doesn’t.
When I was out in nature with no books, nobody telling me what to think about God or how to articulate my beliefs, I was left to dwell in the glory of His presence. And I realized I don’t have to have God figured out to follow Him. What kind of journey would that be if God always acted according a formula? Of course, for all we know, God may act according to a formula, a formula too grand for humans minds to comprehend.
All this to say, I think it is vital for theologians and pastors to step away from the office, from the library, and from their studies and experience some sort of smallness. I find this in the wilderness. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me that God is God and I am not and it’s probably best if I left it that way.