The Unknowable God

A Christian Perspective

Redwood Forest Canopy
The Unknowable God
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about being known by God. That is God’s gift of grace to us: God knows us and loves us anyway. Now we turn to how much we can know God. A daunting task if we are to depend on our intellect, intuition, experience: even the wisdom of the ages.

“Let there be light,” we sing, and in the same breath, “let there be understanding…” And yet, the light of understanding is pretty weak when it comes to knowing God. How do Christians know God? We begin with an allegory.

A trip to northern California is incomplete without a walk in a redwood forest. Redwood trees are the tallest living organisms. They grow for thousands of years – over 350 feet high. That’s 35 – 37 stories high.

In a redwood forest, the forest floor is dry, few other trees grow. There is no undergrowth because the redwoods crowd them out or forest fires burn them out. The forest is dark because the tops of the trees absorb 90% of the sunlight.

Botanists tell us about the canopy of the redwoods, hidden from us, but above our heads nonetheless. Until these climbing scientists journeyed up, perilously swinging from ropes, the forest canopy was assumed to be dry and desert like too. But what a surprise awaited them. The canopy is like a forest in the air. Up there, the trees take in water and produce soil – three feet thick in places , enough for bushes to grow – huckleberry, elderberry, even 8 foot spruce will root in moist dead the top of the trees. One giant redwood can have hundreds of trunks growing out of its top. They sustain birds and flying squirrels, as we might expect, but also salamanders and even aquatic crustaceans.

We can know the redwoods from the ground: the scent, the sound, the colour of the furrowed bark. But unless we join those intrepid climbing botanists, we can only humbly trust that there is another whole world above our heads.

From allegory to miracle: Mark 9: 2-10

One day Jesus took three of his disciples — Peter, James, and John — up on a mountain so that they could be alone. While they were on the mountain, an amazing thing happened. Jesus’ appearance began to change. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the sun’s rays. Then Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus. The disciples couldn’t believe their eyes! Then they couldn’t believe their ears! They heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son. I love him and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he has to say.”

This is such a pivotal moment for the Christian church. This is the point where human nature meets God, with Jesus as the connecting point, the messenger, the mouthpiece of God.

And present to witness to God’s identification of Jesus as ‘Son of God’ are Moses, bearer of the Law, and Elijah representing the prophets. Elijah, Jews believe, will come again before the return of the Messiah, and here he is, with Jesus and Moses on the mountaintop.

I can tell you what I love about Jesus – how he understood people’s deepest needs, how he loved unconditionally, how he got angry at injustice and was compassionate to sinners, how what he taught is all we need to really live. But this story – this story that the disciples tell about a mountain top experience, where Jesus was surrounded by Moses and Elijah, and he glowed with an unearthly light – this is like the forest canopy experience. This is a glimpse of the glory of God breaking through. Our descriptions, interpretations are inadequate. We can continue to live our lives with Jesus’ teachings as our guide. We can seek to know God through his life. But this story of the transfiguration tells us that there is another world up there that we can barely imagine. And the possibility that we can participate in that is a pretty great thing.

Paul talks about a veil that hangs over God’s message: evil forces at play in the world hide God’s goodness. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

But for Paul, the revelation of God through Jesus has changed everything. That revelation is the driving force behind Paul’s entire ministry and can be behind ours. In Jesus, Paul sees that God is indeed making all creation “new.” Jesus embodies God’s desire of a life abundant for all. God has not abandoned God’s creation to the evil forces of this world.

Paul tells us the good news, that nothing — neither anti-God powers nor the sufferings of this world — will ultimately separate us from God’s love. Whatever the evil, the suffering on earth, there is this transfiguring experience, this ‘canopy’ experience, where we learn that God’s light will not be overcome by darkness.

Our knowledge of God is possible through our knowledge of Christ.

On this last Sunday in Epiphany, this season of light, we light our meager candles, knowing there is daylight at the top of the canopy, dazzling sunlight on the mountaintop.


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