Why Is There Space?
Tusk & Cigar Smoking Women

Mystery

Dead_sea_cafe_1To stare into the dark and truly see
To cry into the night and truly weep
To search the tireless search and truly find
It's a mystery to me, it's a mystery

Young men watch the sky
And wish that they could fly
Old men watch the sky and marvel at its lights
Neither young nor old I wonder if I watch at all
It's a mystery to me, it's a mystery

Galilean fishermen work and pray
And watch the sun go down to end another day
But I'm stuck here in these time zones
Where truth comes hard and slow
Pillar of fire, show me where to go
It's a mystery to me, it's a mystery

(Brooks Williams, "Mystery", from Dead Sea Cafe, SPR1301, 2000)

DoorLet me confess that I harbor a significant strain of mysticism in my reformed theology, such as it is.  You might believe that an infection, depending on your view of the mystics, or a beneficial corrective to "know-it-all-ism," but for me it's just plain inescapable.  I walk in my backyard, put my hand on a common pine tree, and while I can describe the tree and maybe even tell you something about how it works inside, I know I can't tell all, and no one can.  There's mystery.

I used to read a lot of mystics, like Juliana of Norwich, St John of the Cross, poet William Blake, or, most recently, Richard Foster.  The most beneficial thing about such reading was the emphasis on contemplation of God, of His Word, and of Creation -- not just knowing but listening.  But such reading was accompanied by no little discomfort, as some mystics often focus on some sort of mystical experience or union with God, some new illumination or even new revelations (at worst).  I began to think that such experiences open one up to self-deception or, worse, some demonic forces.  In any event, I can appreciate the focus on contemplation and silence (as in, "be still, and know that I am God"), without accepting their call to some extraordinary mystical experience. (The again, what exactly was Paul talking about in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4?  Is he describing an out of body experience? Very, very strange.)

CathedralWe can't lose mystery, and so we can't really escape a degree of mysticism, an awareness that God is, despite the truth He has condescended to make clear to us, wholly Other, quite incomprehensible, in the end, a mystery.  J.I. Packer really helps understand what it is to believe in the mystery of God when he compares His self-disclosure of His character in scripture as like a parent talking in baby talk or simple words to a baby: "The form and substance of a parent's baby talk bears no comparison with the full contents of that parent's mind, which he or she could express in full if talking to another adult; but the child receives from the baby talk factual information, real if limited, about the parent, and responsive love and trust grow accordingly" (J.I. Packer, in Concise Theology).  That's about right, but for me the better analogy is how I spoke to my then four-year old son when he asked where babies came from.  I gave him a simple, yet truthful answer, one he was satisfied with at that time, but clearly one that had behind it a great mystery.  I did not spell it all out for him.  And even if I did, does that fully explain it?  No.

The problem with some of the mystics is where their life of faith resides.  They live awed by what they don't know; but we are called to live on what we do know while at the same time acknowledging, humbly, that God is much more than we can know.  This causes us to worship.  Come to think of it, God better be bigger than what I know or He's not much of a God.

It's not, as the song says "just a mystery to me, a mystery to me."  And yet the song reminds me that we're dealing with Someone bigger than us.  We know things.  We accept these things in faith and trust in the One who loves us, acknowledging that there is much more about Him we do not know.  Martin Luther said "all doctrine ends in mystery," and so it does, but we don't live at the end of the doctrine but in the truth along the way.  It's challenging enough just to live in that truth.

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