Saturday, June 21, 2008

In Praise of Mystery

I am, if not first, then at least foremost a man of science and reason. It pervades everything I do, particularly considering that Science (or at least its go-getting and more useful older brother Engineering) is what I get paid to do for a living. Even in pursuit of my faith, it informs my thoughts, my theology, and my walk with God, as long-time readers of mine can attest to. Given a few simple axioms, I should be able to justify virtually everything in my system of beliefs, and when I cannot, those beliefs ought to be subject to further scrutiny and potential revision.

One of my own bolder statements regarding the nature of God is that I believe it is perfectly reasonable that nearly all of the miracles described in the Old Testament might be explicable as natural occurrences. Moses’ parting of the Red Sea may very well have been due to a freak, but not impossible, shifting of currents coinciding with some sort of tectonic event. The fall of the walls of Jericho may have been the result of a perfectly-timed earthquake. At least nine of the ten plagues that struck Egypt very well could have rational explanations as well (aside: if Scripture reveals that the Angel of the Lord really did pass over the houses of Israel, then, well, by God, I believe it. So plague number ten gets the proverbial asterisk). I have the sometimes-annoying tendency (particularly to the wife) to view God as, in some part, the Great Engineer. Far from the Deist view of an impersonal God Who created the universe and let it proceed randomly from there, I believe my God is so great that He could create a universe tailored down to the last subatomic particle such that every event He needs to occur would occur right on cue – so from the beginning of Time, He very well knew that the choices made freely by His people would put them, for example, at the shores of the Red Sea with the Pharaoh’s army at their backs at precisely the moment when an earthquake would cause the waters to part long enough for a massive group of people to cross, and then immediately close in on the pursuing force. This diminishes neither the free will of His people (I don’t want to digress into an argument about free will, so suffice it to say that knowing the outcome of an event a priori is not the same thing as causing that outcome to happen) nor the miraculous nature of the event itself (if one ascribes to the view of the miraculous as something which, when quantified as the ratio of the serendipity of an event to its probability of occurring, results in a very large number – but more importantly, to any engineer who has ever managed a project large or small, expecting something to occur as planned with any precision after any significant amount of time has elapsed is foolhardy at best).

Of course, there are a few things within the realm of Christian belief that simply are inexplicable or unknowable. Chief among these is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. This is the first thing with which I always qualify my “every miracle is a planned coincidence” thesis. Jesus Christ, being both God and man, cannot be considered in any way a “natural convenience”. He is, was, and always will be, and was thus a direct, divine intervention into the affairs of man – according to my thesis, the direct, divine intervention, through which mankind has been redeemed and reconciled with God. And this is the Great Mystery – that which is unknowable by us, but only to be accepted on faith.

And far from frustrating me as a “man of science”, the Great Mystery that is Jesus Christ fills me with incredible joy. Accepting Him as an unknowable mystery unburdens my meager and grasping intellect, and uplifts my spiritual self. Knowing (as well as anyone “knows” anything by faith, at least) that I can never rationalize or explain His existence, His life and His death, as a product of the well-designed natural world gives me and the entire world hope that we are not, in the long run, subject to the forces that wear us down, and that we have the actual and miraculous prospect of eternal life ahead of us in Jesus Christ our Lord. And I praise God for that Mystery by which we are all saved.

This is not to say that we can not in any way know Christ. Quite the contrary, through God’s revealed will in Scripture, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can know Christ quite intimately. Part of the mystery of the Christian faith has, in fact, been revealed to us as followers of Christ, in part in the form of a fuller and more complete understanding of Old Testament Scriptures and God’s promises in light of Christ’s role as the fulfillment of millennia of prophecy. This is, in fact, the very essence of a religious “mystery”: the revelation of previously unknown or unknowable things from the Priest (in this case, our High Priest Jesus Christ) to the Initiate (a new believer in Christ).

Still, though, there are those intangibles which cannot be fully understood by us mortals, because God has not chosen to fully elucidate it through Divine Revelation. Take, for instance, the Trinity: a cornerstone of orthodox Christian belief which professes the triune nature of God as three Persons in one God. Much is made by dissenters over the fact that Scripture never uses the word “trinity” (or whatever the Greek/Hebrew analog might be, at least); nevertheless, it repeatedly and (to my own mind at least) clearly establishes divine coexistence of a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit as the One True God. And yet I do not believe that anyone can truly understand precisely what this entails until we go to meet our Heavenly Father and all is made clear.

Similarly, the dual nature of Christ as fully man and fully God is something scholars still spend endless hours and pages of writing debating and parsing from scripture and philosophy: the point being that even the best and most brilliant among us still don’t know. It’s not that it’s a mystery because we haven’t yet figured it out; rather, we haven’t figured it out yet because it is a Mystery. Therefore, we must take on faith and faith alone that Jesus Christ did indeed come in the form of a man (I’m speaking inexactly here, so please don’t parse that statement too deeply) and yet still retained His Godhood. The entire birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ is suffused with similar Mysteries, and He is glorified because of it. It is these Mysteries that separate Christ from the rest of Scripture, and what define Him as the unique and singular turning point in God’s relationship with man.

This post was written at Washington-Dulles International Airport and somewhere above the continental United States, and has been cross-posted at Mazurland.



Anonymous Marty said...

Good post, Ben. For your readers: there are some good comments over at Mazurland.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Benjamin

Not only doesn't "Scripture never uses the word “trinity” (or whatever the Greek/Hebrew analog might be, at least);"
but neither does Scripture anyway speak of "a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit co-existing as the One True God."

There is simply no such Scripture.
(If I am mistaken, please supply the appropiate Scripture!!)

Rather, Scripture says ...
(1 Cor 8:4) ... that there is none other God but one.
(1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father, ...

Jesus himself identified the Father as the Only True GOD!!
[John 17.3]
That's Scripture!

Solely the Father is the only true GOD!! And Paul and the rest of the early church believed what their Lord & Master, Jesus the Messiah asserted!

To find out more,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you in your quest for truth.

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

1:07 AM  
Anonymous Big D said...

(disclaimer: Instalanche reader on drive-by posting, ignore at your own leisure)

While I see that as a possibility, the "JUST AS PLANNED!" approach is a bit hard to buy, especially as it runs into issues of free will.

Personally, I don't look too hard into this particular detail. God did it however He chose to, and hopefully we will learn more about any details worth knowing at a later date. I will throw one other idea into the mix, however... not one that I necessarily subscribe to, although it does raise some interesting questions in and of itself.

What of the infinite-universes theory, where God set off every possible combination of historical events that could ever happen, including an infinite number of new ones created each instant? There's no reason that He can't monitor them all, no reason any one of them would receive any more or less of His love, and so forth. While a little head-exploding, it does make you feel smaller even faster than looking at the night sky.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Mr. Pastor: How about the whole first chapter of John, for starters? I'm not going to get into a tit-for-tat here, because I'm sure you have a clever response for each individual verse I can throw at you, but of all such "deflections" that I've read, they're never consistent over the entire body of Scripture that points clearly to the Trinitarian doctrine.

Big D: Welcome, and keep on' readin! I'm actually intrigued by your infinte-worlds thought, and will ponder it at my own leisure. Certainly a compelling alternative to my own hypothesis; however, I must remark: you can buy a God Who can monitor a literal infinity of universes, but not one Who exists outside of Time, knowing exactly what our free-will choices will be, and tweaking the initial conditions of His universe "just so" to culminate in His ultimate plan for humanity?

I liken it to a movie: just because I've seen it 100 times and can predict with perfect accuracy and precision exactly what will happen at any given moment doesn't imply that I have control over what will happen. And to thwart your impulse to say "yeah, but the guy who wrote the movie has that control", let me qualify by saying the movie in my example is an unscripted documentary.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I always thought that the "infinity of universes" ploy took away too much of God's freedom and made the whole shebang nothing more than a big Monte Carlo simulation run.

3:38 PM  

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