The public fascination with the total eclipse of the sun coming Aug. 21 is a reminder that the initial impulse of religion is wonder and awe.
Of course, wonder and awe can lead in several directions -- toward gratitude and worship, toward education and enlightenment but also toward superstition and religious explanations that are unnecessary. This latter destination moves us to the old idea of the "God of the gaps."
When ancient peoples could not explain things they were seeing or experiencing in the cosmos, they often would attribute those things to God or to one of several gods. Thus, thunder was evidence of something stirring in heaven. And babies born deformed might be an indication that the gods were angry about something.
But as people learned more about nature and came up with more scientific explanations of things, God was used less and less as an explanation. God was good only to explain things in the gaps of our knowledge and understanding. Soon, this God of the gaps got painted into a smaller and smaller corner.
But German Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right: We should look for God not so much in what we don't know but, rather, in what we do know. We should look for God's influence in our relations of love and in examples of justice, mercy, compassion, trust.
If we imagine an interventionist God who for reasons unknown blocks out the sun for part of a day, we don't learn much about how to live, whom to worship or, for that matter, how the world really works.
As I mentioned this past weekend here in my review of the terrific book God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense, we are more likely to grasp something of the reality of God if we understand the Christian contention that God comes to us in weakness and refuses to get drawn into power games that we humans seem to prefer.
God is not out creating tornadoes or hurricanes, not purposefully blotting out the sun for a time to reveal God's power and glory. Rather, God is seeking to find a place in our hearts so that the rule of love may be operative in one more precinct.
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WHY IS THE TEMPLE MOUNT SO CONTROVERSIAL?
I mentioned here this week the recent tensions and turmoil having to do with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I thought you might fight this Religion News Service piece helpful. It explains why the mount is so central to the three Abrahamic faiths, but particularly to Islam and Judaism.