“He replied: ‘Whether he is a sinner or not I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.’” John 9:25.
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
An odd opening for a meditation! The source of this fragment of a fable is believed to be the Greek poet Archilochus, (7th century B.C.) In spite of its ancient and obscure origins, over the centuries this saying has morphed and been used in everything from children’s stories (“The Fox and the Cat,” Aesop) to scholarly essays, (“The Hedgehog and the Fox”1953, by British philosopher Isaiah Berlin).
Scholar Martin Laird uses it in the introduction to his book on contemplation, A Sunlit Absence. For Laird, the one big thing in regard to contemplation is God’s mystical closeness to us. He cites Augustine’s famous statement, “God is closer to me than I am to myself.” Laird writes further, “While this is the simplest and most fundamental fact of our spiritual lives, it takes a lifetime to realize it”(page 2).
As I thought about the idea of knowing one big thing in regard to God and our walk of faith, more than one big thing came to mind! For Laird, God’s mystical closeness is expressed in Acts 17:28 where Paul addresses the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being.” This big truth defines the very reality we inhabit. There are other big things. Is there anything bigger or more foundational to our faith than the love of God? Paul prays for the Ephesians that they’d be able to grasp the vast dimensions of God’s love deep within their hearts and so be settled and secure in their life with Him (3:17-19). In the same chapter Paul speaks of yet another big reality, that of believers being indwelt by God and graced by his “mighty power” that works within them (3:20).
Is it possible to summarize what we know of God into a single big thing? Of course not. Perhaps another fable is relevant here. In the Blind Men and the Elephant,” (John Godfrey Saxe) the blind men touch different parts of an elephant and use words to describe what they’ve touched. Their descriptions are completely authentic, completely diverse, and yet completely inadequate to describe the fullness of the elephant. Such is our relationship to the wonder and mystery of God.
And yet somehow by God’s infinite grace we come to know him. The blind man in John 9 knew one big thing, and it was the fruit of his encounter with Jesus. One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see. So it is with us. We know that a mystery infinitely beyond us has touched us. And we sense that this mystery is also infinitely good.
The idea of one big thing has its limits. It may be just another version of “can’t see the forest for the trees.” But the essence of our relationship to God is encounter with him, an encounter that’s the result of his initiative of grace and that’s sustained as we seek his abundant ongoing grace (2 Corinthians 9:8) in prayer and obedience. Keeping the big thing or the forest in view guards us from our tendency to reduce the walk of faith to a subset of spiritual practices or a set of beliefs. It also reminds us of the basis of our relationships with others in the body of Christ whose practices and theology may not be exactly the same as ours. We are a fellowship of people who have encountered Jesus, each of us recipients of his grace and each of us drawn to unique aspects of his wonders. “If we are living in God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:7).
Imago Dei Christian Communities
1. Everyone’s faith story is wonderfully unique. Reflect on a graced encounter(s) with God that has been formative for you. Can you express the experience as knowing something of God that you hadn’t known before?
2. What one big thing, among the many things that you know about God do you find your heart drawn to in this season of your life and walk of faith?
3. What implications might there be for the practice of prayer in holding loosely what you know about God in favor of being receptive to other things He may wish to impart to you?
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
Psalm 8:1, 3, 4,and 9.