Whenever we speak of God, there is a necessary tentativeness that must attend our words. A holding back of absolute certainty must accompany what we say.
For many people of the Christian faith, this statement would be considered nonsense. They know what they know and it is absolute. It allows them a bold proclamation in all areas of life and faith. Sometimes it leads to the bullying of others who are not on the same page. I struggle whenever I hear such concrete knowledge.
The tentative voice of theological reflection contains a humility that recognizes the limitations of what we can perceive, know and speak about. While God has come among us and revealed God’s self to humanity through Jesus and the scriptures, God also remains wholly other. We only know what God reveals, and sometimes what God reveals isn’t nearly so clear as others may make it seem.
The problem, though, of such hesitancy is that left unchecked, it becomes paralyzing. Uncertainty easily leads us to whisper our witness. The proclamative voice is stifled by doubt run amok.
In the world we often see both ends of this spectrum. Some speak with certitude. Others barely dare speak at all. If I were to fall into the ditch of one or the other, it is most likely that I’d find myself sliding into the ravine of doubt.
There is a middle way, a path – perhaps many roads – that we can take to walk between the two slippery slopes. It is one in which we speak with certainty from the tradition within which we stand, while honoring the uncertainties that accompany our proclamation.
I proclaim that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that somehow this brings about the forgiveness of sin and unleashes God’s life-giving power in the world. I proclaim that God’s resurrection power points toward a horizon that is already emerging among us, that God’s kingdom is still to be fully established even though it is already becoming in the world as we speak.
Yet, I have many questions that accompany this proclamation. I don’t know how I know this to be true. I read it in the scriptures and stand within a Lutheran tradition that proclaims it to be so. Somehow, the Holy Spirit has called me to this faith and gathered me into a community that holds this proclamation to be true, while sending me into the world to give witness to God’s work through word and deed.
I don’t know how God will ultimately bring resurrection power to bear in a world that remains so torn and so full of death. I don’t know when or how God will bring all things into God’s way. I don’t even fully know what that will be like. So, in my proclamation there is a tentative certainty, an accompanying hesitance with every certainty.
Right now, we know only in part that which will become clear. Our words are limited by the metaphoric nature of language. I know this all too well.
So often, the church is too aware of these limitations and we become too entrenched in tentativeness. We are still trying to figure out where we stand in a world that has changed so rapidly, a world filled with voices that often want the church removed from the public square entirely. At the same time, we hear bold declarations of those who are certain. Sometimes they are embarrassing, especially when they espouse a hatred or bigotry that is opposite of God’s embracing love. We let ourselves go silent or speak only to the faithful who gather in the pews of our well-protected churches. We find ourselves whispering.
The middle way of proclamation stakes a claim for God’s action in the world and acknowledges the mystery of what we understand. It equips the church to proclaim the radical love of God embodied in Jesus while enacting this love in the neighborhoods surrounding the church.
The Holy Spirit still sends us into the world and empowers the church to speak. We must not whisper in uncertainty, but proclaim what we know, always leaving lots of room for the mysteries of God’s ways. We don’t know all the answers, but we know the one who holds the world, who brings new life, and who promises to restore all of creation. We know God in and through the work of Jesus who sends the church. We know God in the Holy Spirit who empowers us for this task.
We have voice. We have witness. Let us proclaim aloud. The time for whispering is over. This world needs the witness of God’s redeeming love.The above photo is entitled “Battle Center Methodist Church,” by TumblingRun. It is used by permission according to its Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.