We come to know God through both understanding and experience, which are always limited.
Think of the story of Moses standing before the God who appeared to him “in a flame of fire out of a bush” (Ex. 3:2). When Moses inquires as to God’s name, trying to understand God and wanting to explain who God is to his people, God responds, “I am who I am.”
The name communicates mystery and ambiguity. Why? Because a name cannot capture God; God can go by many names. To define God by a name would be to confine God to a particular expression of God’s self.
Later in the story of Moses’ relationship with God Moses asks to see (experience) God’s glory (Ex. 33:18). In the interchange between God and Moses God says, “And while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
What’s that about? It’s the biblical writer’s way of saying that we can only “see in part.” Our experience of God is always limited, because God is inexhaustible and his full glory is always hidden.
I would suggest that our capacity to experience God is greater than our capacity to understand God, but both are severely restricted in numerous ways.
This is one reason why all our creeds and faith confessions must be held tentatively, because God is so much greater and larger than our definitions, depictions, and descriptions of God. And so to insist that our understanding and experience, our explanations and expressions of faith are the only “right” ones is arrogant and misguided.
Because God is who God is our questions are more important than our answers. I love what Pastor Rob Bell did at his church (described in his book, “Velvet Elvis”); they hosted “A Doubt Night” where no question was off limits.
Why are questions important? Because they reflect humility and honesty; they allow God to be God instead of trying to make God conform to our image.
A large faith in a large God does not need answers to all our questions. When we allow God to be larger than what we can know, understand, or experience, we become larger too. We come to appreciate the mystery and paradox that is God.
I often wonder why people who insist that there is only one truth and they have it, want to settle for such a small “g” god.