One of the tasks of the Christian community in general and Christian theology in particular is to give expression to an understanding of – and about – God. Since the invention of the printing press, this has given rise to an overwhelming quantity of literature, including some of the greatest theological treatises written. With time this has lead to the sharpening of pens – different writers battling one another over the ways in which understandings of God ought to be expressed. What might have begun as a way of expressing faith to an outside world became an internal war which was at times anything but civil.
When Job agonised over his predicament, wondering what he could possibly have done to deserve his plight, his friends sharpened their theological swords: Job must have sinned for such a thing to happen. Job’s protestations of innocence elicited no compassion for his friends, who could not let their theological purity be challenged by the realities of Job’s circumstances. Meanwhile, Job’s questions piled up, unanswered.
When God finally spoke there were no answers. Job’s questioning of God and His purposes was met with silence from the heavens for an achingly long time. When God finally spoke there were no answers, only further questions, the impact of which was to underline human limitations. There are places to which we have never been – physically, emotionally and spiritually – which prevent us from fully knowing. These mysteries remain essential to our understanding of God… Faith in God needs place for mystery – not just at the margins.
Mystery is both a source of awe and a reminder of our humanity. It is a window to the glory of God and a window into relationship, keeping us humble and at the same time drawing us deeper. It is both boundary line and invitation.
All human relationships hold that element of mystery. At the beginning it is mysterious intrigue that draws us to know a person better. Through time knowledge gained in love grows, changing the nature of the mystery without ever removing it altogether.
The centuries of Christian theology are a journey into that mystery towards understanding. It is a launching pad and potential nourishment for our own journey today. But the mystery which is God-in-Christ abides, a mystery not intended as isolation but invitation: to know and be known in this relationship.
“For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part,” says Paul, as he talks of the very nature of love itself.
November 13, 2005