A friend of mine has convinced me that people who do maths at university study truly wacky things. For instance, he claims that he once took an 18 lecture course to show that you can’t comb the hair down on a hairy sphere. Eh?
Imagine a circle with hair growing out of it. You can comb it down – just start with your comb at one point, and comb it down all the way round.
But when it comes to a hairy sphere – ah, now you’re in trouble. You can start combing the hair down, but you’ll always find that somewhere or other you’ll create partings or mohicans. It just won’t lie flat.
I feel something like the same way about my beliefs about God. I have various beliefs that I think are true – I’ve got these from a mixture of reading the Bible, listening to other Christians, thinking for myself (heaven forbid!)… and I feel as though I should be able to arrange them all neatly together, without any scrunches.
So far, it never quite works.
It *nearly* works – they do fit together and tie in together quite a lot. For instance, I remember feeling reallly satisfied when I realised I had an answer for the question ‘Why do we divide the Bible into two main sections, not three or fifteen?’ It’s a trivial example, but it’s pleasant when you realise that your beliefs fit together to make sense of unfamiliar questions.
But it doesn’t *totally* work. Fort instance, I can’t fully reconcile these things, all of which I believe: (a) God knows everything about the future; (b) God is totally capable of acting to bring about any outcome he wants; (c) we have real choices. How can all three be right? I’m not entirely sure. I’m not willing to abandon any of them, because they all make sense and seem important on their own; but together they seem to make a mohican.
And my point is?
Well it certainly isn’t ‘Give up’. I think we can make progress in making sense of what we believe – we can talk to each other, wrestle with the issues, read books, think hard, decide to be ready to change our minds, abandon some beliefs, correct others, be prepared to let the Bible disagree with us and change us – maybe some of the knots in our hair can be disentangled. The branch of theology that tries to lay out a set of beliefs in a well-ordered way, Systematic Theology, is really valuable, and none of us has investigated it enough, I’m sure. Life is too short.
But my main point is that, if you feel as though your beliefs are a bit provisional, messy, and contradictory, then you’re in good company. We all have to put up with this, while trying to seek out more understanding as time goes on. We aren’t God, and it would be a huge surprise if we could describe him and the world fully and without distortion.
I seem to remember that there was a happy sequel to the sad “can’t comb the hairy sphere down” story. Although I can’t imagine it at all, I seem to recall that if you have the 4-dimensional equivalent of a hairy sphere, you *can* comb it down. I wonder if our attempts at having no tensions in describing God are doomed to failure for now, because our descriptions are always going to be on too low a plane…?