"Surely you know..." (Job 38:21)
Something I wrote a little while ago was taken out of context and used to characterize me in a way that was not true. It got me to thinking about context, in general.
Have you ever judged someone by just one thing you knew about them? It could be any thing: the way they dressed, or what they did for a living, or where they lived, or what they said, etc. Did you ever decide on someone's character or personality by that one thing?
I have a feeling that this is something we have all been guilty of, at one time or another.
But, how much can we know about a person by a whole list of things, let alone by one thing? Seriously, think about this...
I have grey hair. I used to be a math teacher. I have three children. I like to write about faith. After twenty-seven years of marriage, I asked for a divorce. The other day, I wore a pretty skirt and top to church. I'm looking for work. Some part of my house always needs dusting. For a while, my toenails were painted turquoise, now they are painted pale peach. I like Chopin. I like Awolnation. I don't like snakes. I drive a mini-van. I think God is a active presence in my life. I could go on. But even if I did, you still would not know who I am by the list, no matter how long it is. Each item might add a piece to the puzzle, or it might just confuse you. But, either way, there would be so much you wouldn't know. And your understanding of who I am would be different from another person's understanding, because we all have different histories which influence us, too.
A friend told me recently that she attended a class where the instructor invited everyone to introduce themselves by saying where they were from and adding "but I'm so much more than that!"
That's exactly what I'm talking about: no matter what you know about a person, they are so much more than that. Really, any thing we say about a person, any judgment we make, whether positive or negative, takes the person out of context. The context being the totality of that person's life.
Over the past month, reading the Book of Job in the Bible study I facilitate, I wondered if God is ever bothered -- if God can be bothered -- by the way people characterize God. Job's friends in particular are fond of telling Job who God is and what God is like, and these descriptions are all over the map. Some of these descriptions may resonate with your own experiences of God, and others won't. But one thing is for sure: trying to figure out who God is by reading Job will only confuse you because there is such contradiction in the descriptions, and so much that is missing, despite the seemingly endless verbosity of the speakers.
Which is why I think God goes off on a rant at the end of the story, asking repeatedly in so many different ways, Why do you think you know me? Were you there when I ...?
Who, of any of the characters in Job, truly know God? Who of any of us does? Unless we were there.
I wonder if that is why God tells Moses to call him "I Am
That I Am." For no single name or finite description would do justice
to all that God is.
The same is true for us: unless we are there with a person, through all that they do and say and think and feel, we will not truly know the essence of who they are. We can, at most, only know a part of the puzzle.
I must say that thinking about all of this has given me a new appreciation for my own ignorance. On the positive side, however, I know that I will be much less likely to characterize a person from what little, or even what lot, I know about them.
May the Peace
which passes understanding
be with you