Today is the 6th of Elul, which is six days from when I will be officially a Member of the Tribe.
Today’s theme is “know.” (Have you noticed that the themes of these days all seem like pretty tall orders on the surface reading? Yeah, me too.) What does it mean, to “know?” Let’s start there.
Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of “know:”
Full Definition of KNOW
1 a (1) : to perceive directly : have direct cognition of (2) : to have understanding of <importance of knowing oneself> (3) : to recognize the nature of : discern
b (1) : to recognize as being the same as something previously known (2) : to be acquainted or familiar with (3) : to have experience of
2 a : to be aware of the truth or factuality of : be convinced or certain of
b : to have a practical understanding of <knows how to write>
3 archaic : to have sexual intercourse with
Psalm 46:10 says (in English): “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Okay. Which form of “know” are we talking about here?
Well, too many times I’ve heard other religious people say that they know God is real, and most people who hear that will interpret it as the first part of the first definition above – to perceive directly. Which is probably one reason why so many non-religious people shrug and say “Yeah, whatever. Show me proof that there’s a God, or shut up.”
I used to do that, because that’s the definition of “know” that I always used. I also knew that it was a jerk move, but I did it anyway. I thought being a scientist meant that kind of knowing – seeing or otherwise perceiving directly.
But let’s look at the third part of the first definition, shall we? To recognize the nature of. Well. That’s a very different matter, isn’t it?
Recognizing the nature of God is not the same as seeing God in a burning bush, or seeing God come down from a mountain. It doesn’t mean having to see God in physical form. Quite the opposite. It means understanding why that is neither possible nor necessary.
The nature of God is infinite and omnipresent. When we try to impose a physical form on God, it’s our minds trying to comprehend that nature. It’s our minds trying to know by creating a form that we can perceive directly. But God is not in a form that we can perceive directly. God is infinite and omnipresent.
Just stating that may not give me a full recognition of the nature of God, but it’s a start. God is here, regardless of whether we perceive God or not. God is also there, whether we perceive God or not.
Now, I know some people will say that that’s a cop-out. For example, my Christian correspondent last year pressed me to define God exactly, saying that I couldn’t be sure my need to convert was real unless I understood God by being able to define God. But I think that’s where I started to realize that I needed to pull away from the demand that I define God – or that I had to define God in order to know God.
I can know that God is real, that God is infinite, and that I cannot possibly perceive God directly – but also that I don’t need to.
Sometimes, it’s okay not to know.