The Jewish scriptures tell of a stone that the Israelites erected in order to memorialize a place where God had helped them overcome their enemies. They called the stone, Ebeneezer, which means, “Thus far God has helped us,” and I am interested in how this kind of memorial might represent a proper theology’s attempt to articulate the moment of encounter with God. Let me outline what this might mean.
My theology needs to be, not an idol, not an altar, but an ebeneezer. It needs to be, not an attempt to show the face of God, not an attempt to provide an adequate sacrifice to God, but a necessarily inadequate gesture which says, like Samuel, “Thus far God has helped us,” or like Jacob, “Here I wrestled with God; here I was broken; here my name was changed.” It is not an idol to which I might scarifice nor an altar on which such a sacrifice might be made, but a marker that recalls to me the reason for my sacrifice. It does not attempt to make God present, but recalls a moment when God was present, beyond all guarantee, and anticipates the moment when God will be present again, beyond all hope, according to a promise.