Limited Knowledge of the Guttering Wick

Russell Minick 0 Comments

I think I know that there are things I don’t know.  But actually, I can’t know that, can I?

In column 2 and 4 there is a cloud at the top.  In one is a question mark, in the other is a dotted-line crown.  This is meant to represent our limited knowledge, specifically in relation to God.

My favorite novel about the Old Testament is The Son of Laughter by Frederick Buechner.  It is wild and dirty as the A.N.E. (ancient near east) must have been.  Not in a detail lurid way that is physiologically affecting; just in a way explosively unfamiliar with flannel board ways of speaking about gods and homemade knives and blood and stuff.  It tells stories I know in ways that remind me that I know that I don’t know so much.

A peculiar aspect of the story it tells is the title “the Fear” for the LORD/YHWH/Jehovah.  It is not rude, it is mesmerizing:


“The Shield was another of the Fear’s names. According to Laughter, it means he shields the seed of Abraham the way a man starting a fire shields the flame. When Sarah was about to die childless, the Fear gave her a son. When Abraham was about to slaughter the son, the Fear gave him the ram. He is always shielding us like a guttering wick, Laughter said, because the fire he is trying to start with us is a fire that the whole world will live to warm its hands at. It is a fire in the dark that will light the whole world home.” 
― Frederick BuechnerThe Son of Laughter

“God is light” has nothing to do with florescent bulbs, or even “control + f2”.  Light is fire.  Fire is beautiful and treasured, but still worthy of fear.  We know enough about fire to interact, but most of us know that we don’t know everything about fire.  It is fascinatingly more than what we can contain in our heads, and clearly relevant to everything connected to our heads.  Interacting wisely gives warmth, interaction poorly opens up advanced levels of pain.

Knowing that there must be something greater than the cosmos, something greater than the powers and principalities, is something a couple of tribal friends have told me about.  One was a carpenter.  I tell his story often.  He carved enormous wooden dragons for buddhist rituals.  He was good at it.  One day he went with some friends on a trek to find an idol hidden from the government during a crazy time.  The expectation was that this idol had unique powers to offer him and his friends.  But, when they found it, he saw it not as a worshipper, but as a carpenter.  He saw it as something he could have created.  He told me that is when he knew that he must have a creator that wasn’t created.  He just had no way of knowing who that creator was.

Another tribal friend told a similar story.  His was related to hot tubs.  The mountains near his home have great thermal springs and he was enjoying swimming in the hot pool, then the cool one, and thought how delightful it all was.  He had the same thoughts as the carpenter.  There has to be someone behind all the goodness in the world.  But who is he, and how could I ever know him?

Both of these guys were experiencing the column 2 question mark:

Who is “up there”?

Where did all of this come from?

How can I know????

The happy part of the story is that those who were told by others went and told them.  Now they tell others.  Very happy.  But…

Even after they came to know and trust in Christ and “the Fear” he reveals as a warming light, the light is experienced by man who is “a guttering wick”.  We know, but honestly, we know we only know in part.  And the more we know, the more undone we are.

1 Corinthians 13
For we know in part <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(S)”>and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(T)”>what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(U)”>behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(V)”>then we shall see face to face. <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(W)”>Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.<sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(X)”>

Paul progressively says of himself:
“least of the apostles… very least of all saints… chief of sinners.”
The more light, the more fear, the more fear, the more comfort.  Weird.  Guess it is a relief to know that we don’t know everything.  I knew it!
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