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Embracing Mystery

One of humanity’s most endearing qualities is our ability to discover things, driven by an almost insatiable curiosity that seems to manifest itself early in our lives. We have a desire to explore and learn about the world in which we live. This curiosity has sent us to the moon, to the top of Mount Everest, and to the depths of the ocean. Through technology, we have gazed into the far reaches of the universe and taken pictures of the inexpressible beauty found there.

Our curiosity has often led us on inward journeys of discovery as well. It seems that every civilization, no matter how ancient, finds itself asking basic questions about our existence. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why are the second movies in a trilogy so often the worst? If something is mysterious we inquire, and prod, and test, and speculate until we can find a reasonable and satisfying answer.

This is all well and good and has given the human race a wealth of knowledge, but what if by embracing a certain degree of mystery we were actually able to move to a deeper place of awe and worship?

Curiosity and Reason Gone Wrong

Human reason is certainly one of the ways in which we resemble, if only through a glass dimly, our God. Thus, it is a gift from God and should be employed to bring Him glory, honor, and praise.

Historically, reason has also gotten humanity into trouble. The serpent’s appeal was not simply to Adam and Eve’s emotions but to their reasoning about this God of theirs. The creators of the Tower of Babel were technological masters of their time seeking to achieve divine status through human effort. More recently the Enlightenment elevated the power of human reason above all others as the standard for knowing anything about the world in which we live. Revelation was rejected as outdated, outmoded, and downright superstitious. When reason and revelation clashed, revelation was required to submit.

This is reason-gone-wrong: A faculty that was designed to illuminate God’s character, nature, and the works of his hands is used to eliminate our need for him. The gift is now, all too often, worshiped over and above the giver.

The End of Reason

What do we do when we reach the end of our reason? This is not a call to eliminate reason, rather a question of what happens when we arrive at a point where reason fails us. What do we do when we find ourselves saying with David, “This wondrous knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it (Psalm 139:6 CSB)”?

There seem to be three options. First, we can reject any truth about God or the world that does not meet with the approval of human reason. This was the preferred solution for many of the Enlightenment thinkers.

We could also interpret/reinterpret our theological position to the point that it is almost entirely useless and devoid of the power of the Gospel. We tend to do this when we must have answers to questions that are not meant to be answered this side of eternity. “How can God be three persons in one being?” “How can God know all things, be sovereign in all things, and man be responsible for his actions?” “How is Christ present in the Lord’s Supper?”

These are not idle speculations. These are questions that strike at the heart of orthodoxy but an answer that satisfies human reason is often elusive.

Enter the third response: embrace the mystery.

Embracing Mystery

Please do not misunderstand, this is not an exasperated throwing-up-of-the-hands-in-defeat. Rather, it is an admission that while our human reason is a good gift from God, it is very much limited. After David expresses the loftiness of God’s knowledge in Psalm 139 he goes on to worship, in awe, a God who could knit him together in his mother’s womb. In verses 17-18 he sings, “God, how precious your thoughts are to me; how vast their sum is! If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of the sand; when I wake up, I am still with you.” Instead of being frustrated with God or casting his faith off, David is driven to a deeper place of worship because his lack of knowledge reminds him of the vastness of God’s.

The truth is if we could wrap our minds around God he would not be worthy of our worship. No, he would be like us and we would put the final brick on the top of that tower and elevate ourselves to his level discovering that he is no more worthy of worship than we are.

The knowledge that we know so little compared to God is one of the things that drives us to a deeper place of worship, awe, and wonder. When Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter after she died the response of those who witnessed it was utter astonishment (Mark 5:42). When he cast out the demon Legion from the man in the land of the Gerasenes, “they were all amazed (Mark 5:20).”

These days we are tempted to try and explain away miracles like these that seem to run against the grain of human reason. For two-thousand years people have been trying to explain away the resurrection of Christ for one reason or another. All the while the proper response to God’s extraordinary work, knowledge, and character is meant to be awe. Nehemiah had it right as he and the Jews were rebuilding the walls of Zion, “Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord…(Nehemiah 4:14b).”

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