In my last post, I shared a com­ment from C.S. Lewis: We believe that the sun is in the sky at mid­day in sum­mer not because we can clear­ly see the sun (in fact, we can­not) but because we can see every­thing else.” The first time I read these words, I strug­gled to under­stand them. Final­ly, the aha moment” came. Of course. If I look at the sun direct­ly, almost imme­di­ate­ly I don’t see any­thing. Every­thing goes dark. Yet I know the sun is shin­ing if I look at any­thing else. If not for sun­light, I couldn’t see squir­rels, spi­ders, trees, golf balls fly­ing, hum­ming birds, or my dog Pon­cho. I know the sun is there because it enables me to see every­thing else. It took me a while to get Lewis’s point, but when the light final­ly came on in my brain, it made all the sense in the world. 

So, the ques­tion becomes how this illus­tra­tion might relate to our under­stand­ing of God and what Chris­tians have said about God for over two thou­sand years. Chris­tians have insist­ed, for exam­ple, that God is one,” true,” and liv­ing.” God is not one thing” among many oth­ers, but is the cre­ator, source, and end of all things.”

Not only so, but we are for­bid­den to make any image” of God, since any image would dras­ti­cal­ly, infi­nite­ly fall short of the inde­scrib­able real­i­ty that God is, has always been, and will always be. I recall bib­li­cal writ­ers insist­ing that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, God’s ways are not our ways. All the gods of the nations are idols,” declares the psalmist, but the Lord made the heav­ens” (Ps. 96:5). The Cre­ator of all things lives in unap­proach­able light” (1 Tim. 6:16). Before God both heav­en and earth flee away, and no place is found for them (Rev. 20:11). God warns us: No one may see me and live” (Exod. 33:20). In light of texts such as these, Chris­tians have rec­og­nized that God is incom­pre­hen­si­ble,” inscrutable,” hid­den,” past find­ing out.” 

Yet the moment we speak these words, we also know that God is also the cen­ter of all things, the fount of life, the God of truth, the Father of lights, the Light that enlight­ens every per­son com­ing into the world” (John 1:9). How can we hold all these won­der­ful affir­ma­tions togeth­er? They seem to con­tra­dict one anoth­er. How can Life be the occa­sion of death, or Light dwell in daz­zling dark­ness, or Truth be beyond under­stand­ing? Yet para­dox­i­cal expres­sions such as these are used to describe God through­out the Bible. 

Con­sid­er the Latin phrase mys­teri­um tremen­dum et fasci­nans: mys­tery that over­whelms yet attracts,” a phrase the Ger­man philoso­pher of reli­gion Rudolf Otto used to describe God. Doesn’t this sound right when we think of God? This Latin phrase insists that God is, in some quite remark­able sense, a mys­tery. To speak of God this way is to speak of God as blind­ing, crush­ing, dev­as­tat­ing, over­pow­er­ing. To approach God is to approach an unfath­omable depth of real­i­ty and truth that, like the sun in the sky, is too intense, too bright to look at, but that nev­er­the­less brings mean­ing and coher­ence and beau­ty to every­thing else. God is a mystery. 

What we will need to explore is this: If God is a mys­tery, exact­ly what kind of a mys­tery are we talk­ing about? 

You can catch up with all of Chris’s blog posts at Con­ver­sa­tions with Chris.

This series has been adapt­ed from Steven D. Boy­er and Chris Hall’s The Mys­tery of God: The­ol­o­gy for Know­ing the Unknow­able. Hun­gry for more? Please vis­it Bak­er Aca­d­e­m­ic for more information. 

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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