When I first came to truly understand what the gospel says in college, that understanding was primarily as a result of discovering the joy of digging into Scripture. Throughout high school, I never understood why we were asked to mull over what deep meanings were tucked away in the books we had to read. Yet when I was taught later that the Bible had many different meanings that were discoverable if only we take the time to meditate and search the Scripture (Acts 17:11), I was overwhelmed with excitement and curiosity. I knew I would never be able to understand it all, but I would seek to do so as much as I could.
So I came upon this Patrick Rothfuss passage in a fantasy novel, I read and reread this excerpt many times, thinking of the value of the ideas here in areas of philosophy and theology — in our “ways of knowing”.
“I still don’t understand about names.”
“I will teach you to understand,” he said easily. “The nature of names cannot be described, only experienced and understood.”
“Why can’t it be described?” I asked. “If you understand a thing, you can describe it.”
“Can you describe all the things you understand?” he looked sideways at me.
Elodin pointed down the street. “What color is that boy’s shirt?”
“What do you mean by blue? Describe it.”
I struggled for a moment, failed. “So blue is a name?”
“It is a word. Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”
My head was swimming by this point. “I still don’t understand.”
He laid a hand on my shoulder. “Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself. Impossible. Confusing. Frustrating. He lifted his hands high above his head as if stretching for the sky. “But there are other ways to understanding!” he shouted, laughing like a child. He threw both arms to the cloudless arch of sky above us, still laughing. “Look!” He shouted, tilting his head back. “Blue! Blue! Blue!”
Excerpt from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Ways of knowing. A common phrase used to describe how we come to understand things. It’s as if we can’t know everything, which is not a popular belief to hold. That’s why I love the above excerpt. Just because we want to understand or have experienced firsthand how God works in our lives does not mean we will then be able to describe it perfectly. Or, on the other side of the coin, those who do not believe can reason away the truths of the gospel because they look at their own life and determine that God cannot be good because he wouldn’t have allowed this much suffering in their life. “Because I cannot think of a reason why suffering exists, there must not be a reason,” is the conclusion some non-believers have reached.
I was reminded last week that no matter how much I find beauty in the Scripture, others are skeptical. I still have much work to do in understanding it. When I am asked a theological question by a skeptic, I cannot always sort out my thoughts enough to respond adequately to someone else’s claim against God’s authority. I’m frustrated by my own inability to perfectly answer the questions others have about God’s laws and the realities of our broken world. I remind myself of the limits of my own understanding, yet the mercy of God to help me understand at least somewhat now in the mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). I am humbled that nothing I do or do not do can thwart or stall the power of Christ in the lives of those he has called or will call (Romans 8:30). Lastly, I get to pray in these moments.
So, we must sink into an inward communion with Our Father, resulting in not only understanding him more, but experiencing Him more. And that may mean we cannot accurately describe Him or what our relationship with Him is like in a way that is perfectly understood by others. Regardless, we seek out this communion all the more, knowing that our love for Him will grow deeper as we know Him more and become holier.
Of course, not every day feels like an inward communion. But to paraphrase the 20th-century journalist and social activist Dorothy Day, this routine, while perhaps in our humanity it feels sometimes dull, is necessary, like the routine of taking daily food.
As you go forth this week, may you pray this verse and find it to be all the truer in your heart and mind as you establish the Word as a part of your daily life:
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy, and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of Hosts,” Jeremiah 15:16
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I discerned their end.” Psalm 73:16-17
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17
Interested in a beautiful example of experiencing the Word? Check out Katie’s blog last week about what she discovered in studying the word “stand” in the Bible!