Firstly, of course, there’s God. Whatever you conceive Him or Her to be, and even if you have memorized and understood everything the bible and all theologians have said about Him, and even read what the pagans have said about Him, you still (I should say, we still) are going to find out that though in everything that really mattered we knew Him quite well, there will be a whole lot about Him that will just take us by surprise—mostly, things that we couldn’t have even begun to know about Him, due to our puny brains and sensory apparatus not having a way to process the information. Ants may know that we’re there, and they may even have a good idea that we’re big, clumsy, slow-moving and dangerous. In everything that really matters to them they know us quite well. They won’t understand why some of us avoid stepping on them. They won’t begin to suspect that we compose and listen to something we call music, even though they may have something analogous to it on a very minor scale. Unfortunately for them, one of us hasn’t been transformed into an ant like themselves, so as to give them a better idea of what those big shadow-casters are that pass over their trails.
Secondly, there’s our own human nature, that which we seem to be while we are alive “in the flesh.” As a young man, I spent many hours observing my body and my spirit in function, long hours lying quiet but wide awake in the night. The result of my observations was a gradually increasing awareness that “I am not that” in reference first to my body, then even to my spirit, even to my mind. Anything that I was able to observe, watch and study, was yet experience outside whatever it is that I am. All these observations and my non-verbal thinking about them only demonstrated to me what holy scripture teaches, “For that which is,” that which exists, the world of things in its essence and with its causes, “is far off,” far removed from the sight of man, “and it is deep, deep; who can discover it?” (Ecclesiastes 7:24) How ironic, that even our very own selves, that we (think we) can know first-hand, should still be beyond our ken! Most of us don’t want to put the label “utterly unlike” on our cache of life experience, but I think that what life really is is utterly unlike our perception. We only know what we need to know and can know, and that’s not much.
Thirdly, or maybe I should say lastly, there’s death. Whatever you conceive it to be, or not be, and even if you’ve had a near death experience, or even been dead and through miracle or modern science been resuscitated, you still can’t come closer to knowing or understanding what it is than the distance separating East from West. My youthful experiments in observation also impinged on death. I used to withdraw my energy from my bodily extremities to experience “this is a hand, not my hand” and even “this is a body, not my body.” I tried to observe what remains when all senses, sight, hearing, touch, and finally even all thought, become inaccessible to a mind. What is left? Locked in a realm of being which cannot exist, yet does, I imagined the body I once inhabited, breathless, unfeeling, unmoving, as a formless numbness, and the existence of the outer world (where life was still going on) as an inaccessible “it,” not a thing or a place, just a nothing that somehow is, and beyond my penetration. That was as close as I came to apprehending death. It was very unlike what my normal mind envisions when I think of death, but it was still not “utterly unlike.”
It is this kind of approach that brings us, I think, to the threshold of at least sensing that what awaits us after this (what we call) life is something and Someone “utterly unlike” everything we have ever seen, heard, felt or thought. It makes even spelling the Name with a capital letter pale as insolence and ignorance before the reality of Him Who Is, and of As It Must Be. Not even speaking of God or of what we know about Him and His plan of salvation as written in His Word, the scriptures, we can still know Him as He reveals Himself to us and through us without our help or our imagination, and knowing Him thus, the “utterly unlike” gradually dawns on us, and of that, no man living can speak.
Originally posted June 30, 2009