There is an old legend, an old story that has stood with me for quite some time. I find it wonderful, and if told in person, it can be rather fun to hear or seen acted out. It involves rabbis, arguments, a diamond, humility and beauty. It has since taken on a large role in my understanding of the world and, of course, faith.
It goes something like this…
Once upon a time there were 72 different rabbis all sitting in the same room. Each came prepared with their own thoughts and opinions of the Jewish faith. The first rabbi gave his perspective, which drew just as much approval as disapproval. Then, the second presented. The third. The fourth. Each followed by an increasing amount of argumentation and vocal opposition. By this point the room has become rather rambunctious, rather disorderly as different factions of the room began raising their voices and engaging in full out disagreement.
But to the side, there was one rabbi that rather chuckled at the rabble. In fact, he only served to laugh louder with each presentation. He sat and seemed to enjoy every single rabbis’ points and shook his head in disbelief. Another rabbi in the room took notice of his delight, and rather annoyed, interrogated him about his delight at the disagreements happening.
Between chuckles he replied, “I believe you misunderstand me, I do not delight in the rabble in front of us. I am merely chuckling at myself for not thinking of all these other ways of seeing our Scriptures.” He continued, “Our faith is a diamond. That the light enters and refracts uniquely. Yet, taken from another angle, the light refracts differently, but it is still the same diamond. I am chuckling at how foolish I have been to think that light passes through our diamond from only my perspective!”
If the Judeo-Christian faith can be likened to a diamond, then it is possible that it has far more than just 72 different angles, but an infinity of depth and beauty to offer. How could it not?
Case in point, I recently had a brief exchange about a prominent Christian author. Someone said, “Yeah, I don’t know about that guy, I heard he denies the atonement theory.”
To which I curiously replied, “Which one?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, which atonement theory does he ‘supposedly’ deny. There are quite a few of them, and we are potentially still finding more of them.”
Now, it is true that everyone needs a starting point. A first angle through which they look at the beauty of the diamond, and it is not that that angle is false, but that there are other views that are left unappreciated and left unexperienced. It may be simplistic of a view, but conservatives get stuck in one perspective while liberals deny all of them but the way of most depth and beauty is to find a way to learn from every other angle of the faith.
Of course, the ancient creeds are not meant to be scrapped in this perspective. However, they are possibly better seen not just as propositional statements, but frameworks. Or, better yet, like maps. Take for instance, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, they have set the contour or outline of a vast new land but do not offer exact description of all the mountains, valleys, rivers and streams within. I believe one of the most exciting things is to explore this inner landscape, to climb its heights and plunge its depths. With telescope and microscope we are meant to examine, hypothesize and improve our perspectives.
However, there is something profound in the story of the laughing rabbi. In that story there is a grand depiction of humility before God, and dare I say, even a levity toward our need or fixation to think we have God properly understood. It reminds me of a statement from St. Augustine, that, “If you can comprehend it, it isn’t God.”
Job 11:7-9 speaks toward this…
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.”
Certainly, God sees our attempts at comprehending what can only be apprehended by grace. Perhaps God himself even chuckles like another person present watching that raucous room of 72 rabbis, knowing there is yet a 73rd perspective yet to be found.
May we have the humility and levity to remember that reality.