Having been in seminary for a little more than two months, I keep coming up against one realization: I don’t know very much. Compared to the average church congregant, I might know more about church history or theology or even about Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that what I think I know can’t be refuted or debated. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers – regardless of how I might feel from time to time.
After every new book I read, I’m led to two or three more books I feel I need to read in order to address the questions that came to mind in that first book. It’s like as soon as I think I’ve figured something out about God, someone asks a question or points something out that wrecks my previous view and I have to start over again. After a while, it becomes rather exhausting.
Although, there’s a difference between my studies now and my studies when I first became a believer. Not sure if it was the culture, the church, or just some belief I developed in my own head, but I had this idea that I had to find all the answers and be able to answer anyone who may question my beliefs. I felt I needed to be well versed in theological self-defense, giving a verbal round-house kick to every question that tried to shake my faith. Heretics near and far would fear my apologetics.
As ridiculous as this sounds, this was my approach. I came to Scripture not looking to be fed something that improved the way I treated my neighbor, but to find a verse proving my point in every argument. The problem with this mentality is that it treats Scripture like an answer book and God as though He could be caged in to our little theology boxes. And once we’re able to quantify and document Him, we’ll place Him on a shelf like a paperback novel that intrigued us for a moment, but that we eventually figured out.
What this leaves out is any capacity for mystery. We don’t allow ourselves to wonder, to allow a question to sit and season awhile. And we don’t allow ourselves to doubt.
“Such doubt is not the enemy of faith but an essential element within it. For faith in God does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes. Rather, it can be seen as a process of ‘unceasing interrogation.’… The spirit enters into our lives and puts disturbing questions. Without such creative doubt, religion becomes hard and cruel, degenerating into the spurious security which breeds intolerance and persecution. Without doubt, there is loss of inner reality and of inspirational power to religious language. The whole spiritual life must suffer from, and be seriously harmed by, the repression of doubt.” – Kenneth Leech, as quoted in M. Robert Mulholland Jr.’s Invitation to a Journey, pg. 148 (Emphasis mine)
Frantically searching the Scriptures for the answer to that disturbing question could mean we are running from, as Leech puts it, “a process of ‘unceasing interrogation’” – a process we may very well need to undergo. What does this process look like, though?
I think it varies from person to person, but I know that it isn’t intellectual laziness. Allowing room for mystery isn’t the same as thinking to oneself, “Well, I asked the question, but I didn’t get an answer, so I suppose it will forever remain a mystery.” Instead it is the unending search – even if no answer is found.
God wants us to develop the capacity for mystery and wonder; not to develop a perfect systematic theology that refutes all the “liberal” questions attempting to undermine our faith. “And if there is no room for mystery there is no room for God, because God is the ultimate mystery,” (Mulholland, 149, emphasis mine).
A capacity for mystery is more about resolve than anything else; never ending in one’s search for whatever God has covered up. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” Proverbs 25:2.
Embrace mystery and make room for God. Paradoxically, you might find your faith being strengthened.