We all want God to simply part the clouds and look down on us, or to verbally communicate with us, unmediated. But, that cannot be, God is far too great, and we are far too insignificant. I am not sure what encountering God’s unmediated presence (I want to use terms like “real” and “physical” but I do not know what they mean with God) would do to a person. I think there might be two outcomes, the unmediated presence of God could destroy creation or perhaps go completely unrecognized. It is easy to understand how God’s presence could be so completely overwhelming to a person as to have a negative impact. Yet, we may be standing in the unmediated presence at this moment and completely unable to recognize it. If either of these is the case (or, some third option I am not capable of recognizing) then God must have a mediator in order for the human mind to see God. I think a God who creates would want to communicate with creation, but, a creator who is God needs a mediator to do so effectively.
If we need mediation to find/communicate with God, what kind of mediation is sufficient and how does it work?
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Ps. 19:1 NRSV)
We love this verse; we love the idea that creation around us declares God’s presence by being God’s handiwork. There is something simplistic about this concept, step outdoors and commune with God through the mediation of nature. There is a significant amount of truth in this, I frequently read of people communicating with God in the ordered design (and sometimes lack of order) in nature. I particularly enjoy reading stories of scientists who can find God as they study nature (I recommend Biologos). But is nature enough, does nature paint a clear enough picture of God to make it the best mediator? Nature can teach us several lessons about God, beauty, design, grandeur, grace, but, nature is an impressionist painting vague and hazy. Nature shows us only the barest outline of God, a great thing for those not ready to meet God, but, of limited us to get to know God. Nature is a mediator, but, one which keeps God at arm’s length. I suppose this is exactly why most people never get beyond nature as their mediator with God; God is too frightening, too heavy, too real to encounter in anything greater than an impression.
What of sacred books, is there a Holy Writ which mediates to us? Many look for God in the religious writings, understanding that others have some level of encounter with the Divine and have written of it. Yes, sacred books are a great way to encounter God; some are better than others and some called “holy” have no claim to the title. But, if nature is an impressionist’s work then books are sketches. Books might give straight lines, but, they lack depth and color. And if like poetry or visions they have color, they lack the straight lines found in other writings; in others words, these are like nature written down. These written statements are good for giving boundaries, but, not always great at providing depth of meaning.
What about laying both together to construct a deeper picture? I think many people do just this, the results can be mixed some can come to wonderful conclusions, while others are completely inadequate. If written material is a sketch of God and nature is the color, lay the wrong sketch over the wrong color and see a grotesque picture of God. While both nature and Scripture can be mediators and used correctly good mediators to reveal God to us, they are by no means foolproof.
If I understand God as creator and desiring communication with creation, particularly humanity, then I wonder what would be the best means of mediation between God and humanity? I think the answer would be for God to limit the Divine presence in such a way as to make it visible and comprehendible to us. Something with clearer lines and purpose than nature, and fuller and more vibrant than the written word. God must step into nature, must limit the Divine presence to a point easily recognizable to humanity, something that we can comprehend without real threat to us. Should God want to truly communicate with us God must become one of us. God’s message in nature is blurry and in written word lacks depth, but, as a human God could communicate with us with ease. God with us must be the reality which gives meaning to the other mediations of God’s message. If we start with a picture of God as human, then lay that over either the sketch of written word or the impression of nature (or preferably both) we come to a much more complete message of who God is and what God wants to communicate.