There is an old story told about St. Augustine and a little boy on a beach. Augustine was writing a book on the Trinity and was walking along the seashore, deep in thought. Augustine noticed the little boy pouring seawater into a hole that had been dug in the sand. The little boy would go down to the surf, scoop up water, and quickly carry it back to the hole and dump it in. Augustine finally asked the little boy what he was doing. The boy answered, “I am pouring the sea into this hole.”
Augustine said to the boy, “You are wasting your time. You will never get all that water into that one little hole. It can’t be done.” The boy responded, “Well, you are wasting your time writing about God. You will never get all of him into that one little book.”
That little boy was right. God is bigger than our books, doctrines, belief statements, and theories about him—far bigger. I now resist even using the words “theory” or “explanation” when speaking of God, because these imply that we can figure it all out, when we can’t.
C. S. Lewis explained it like this: Suppose a man looks out at the Atlantic Ocean. Then he goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic Ocean. He has turned from something real to something less real. He has turned from actual waves and salty air to “a bit of colored paper.” The map is important, because it is based on what many people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. And, if you want to go anywhere, the map is necessary, but it’s not the real thing. Lewis concludes that our beliefs are just like that map—important, yes, but a weak representation of the genuine.
What we believe about God is not God. These are bits of colored paper. Yet, our tendency is to fall in love with the map, when God wants us to love him. We are skilled at knowing the ins-and-outs of our religious charts, but God wants us to know him. After all, we cannot have a relationship with a map. We cannot commune with a theological concept. We cannot experience creed or dogma. But we can relate to, commune with, and experience God, a God that is an ever unfolding mystery of wonder and grace, larger than the universe.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.