A tree. Has roots, branches, a crown, leaves, sometimes fruits, birds that nest and bark. Lets say that you are the leaf which is almost at the top, on a long branch, amongst į0 other leaves. You can see most of the way down to the ground, you can see all the detail on each leaf, you can smell the tree and the forest at large. You get nutrients from a tiny stem that meets with other tiny stems on their way back to the branch and then the tree and then all the way down to the roots. You bring some nutrients to the table through capturing suns rays, so… in a way its a team sport to keep everyone a live. You couldn’t function by yourself, but others would function less if they didn’t have you on the tree. They wouldn’t die. You’re not a saviour character in the trees narrative, but… you are needed and wanted.
Now, as this specific leaf, you probably don’t know who or what planted you. Even if the bird that dropped your specific seed returned to kiss your green forehead, you may or may not really understand or remember what it looks like a few days later. You can’t see each of the 5000 other trees in this part of the forest. Or the 100s of 1000s of insects crawling around the trees that are standing mere metres away from your tree. Although you are a part of the big picture, you can’t really see the entire picture or even some of the picture. Its a combination of straight up mystery, and a little mix of ignorance. You know theres mystery, but you have no idea about what you don’t know.
Now I’m not botanist. So trees are more complicated than I know. And I don’t think leaves can process reality as detailed as a human. But what of our position in life is similar to that leaf. We know a bunch of stuff. We see detail and links and history. But we don’t see it all. And if we do, it would be tainted by our own experience. I see each tree in relation to all the other trees I have interacted with before. Which colours what the tree actually is.
Should knowing that there are 5 trees around us, complete our knowledge, keeping all other possibilities of trees from being thought about or searched for. Or should the 5 trees excite us to think ‘maybe there are more trees, or maybe there are monkeys!’. Imagine not knowing what a monkey was, just thinking trees had leaves and insects, and having a monkey swing into your tree and start eating a banana. Some of us would react in terror. But others would be curious. What else could be out there. Are there bigger monkeys? Or smaller monkeys with more hands?
So then we swing the view to God, as I am currently looking through lent, and the comments of a few old school atheists who look at God in different ways. And some have argued from the negative. God exists in our minds as we take away what he is not. Or another
“Therefore if that than which a greater cannot be imagined is in the understanding alone, that very thing than which a greater cannot be imagined is something than which a greater can be imagined. But certainly this cannot be. There exists, therefore, beyond doubt something than which a greater cannot be imagined, both in the understanding and in reality.” – Anselm – Proslogium
Anselm is said to be arguing that in our minds if we can imagine or hold something that we point to and say “thats too big to exist” than that must be God. That which we cannot fully grasp. That which we may be able to lightly interact with, but ultimately is the bird that planted our seed 100 years ago and is now chilling on a different continent because its winter.
“God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped, he would not be God” – Evagrius
Similar idea. If we can grasp is in our mind, and it freaks us out a little, then we have to think even higher. And be comfortable with not knowing the entirety because if we did, it would not be God.
But then how do we create empire on the foundations of knowing for sure that we know that we know? How do we mount crusades against those that don’t understand, or don’t paint the write tattoos on their backs honouring the God that we fully understand and keep?
Mystery keeps us humble. Mystery keeps us filled with awe. Mystery enables us to celebrate the unknowing with all who want to celebrate it. Mystery also gives us a chance to look life in the eyes and understand that it sucks sometimes. That as a member of the tree, we have a part to play, but we aren’t needed as much as an elitist band of crusaders would have us believe. But we are loved. And created. And have to hands and feet to embrace others to the point of dying on the tree, and floating to the forest floor to fertilise the family for the future.