Unknowable Mysteries

We live in a day and age when almost everything that is can be known or found out. For example, if you are curious who won the Super Bowl in 1976, how many countries there are in the world or the distance between earth and mars a quick trip to Google will provide you thousands of answers. We love to be informed.

But we also love to figure out and discover. Many of us love when we get the chance to solve some difficult problem that stumps others. This is also why many of us love the mystery genre of movies these days. I particularly love movies that keep you guessing the entire time. I sit in my seat and continually attempt to analyze and discover who did it and what will happen next. I don’t love the mystery, but rather I love solving the mystery.

The problem is when we take our desire for mystery solving to God. While God does reveal much about Himself to us, (“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13), He still leaves much about Himself shrouded in mystery. He gives us glimpses, (like when he lets Moses see His back but not His face in Exodus 33:20-23), but often doesn’t give us the whole picture.

And while many of us who love to know and be informed cringe at the idea of an unknowable mystery, I believe that this stance by God is good and is overall in the best interests of Him and His creation. So I wanted to share a couple points with you all today about why we should appreciate the mystery surrounding God and why, in some instances, rather than seeking to solve the mystery we need to just appreciate it.

First, because it shows the distinction between us and God. We are all born with a God-complex. We desire to be the god of our own universe. So we seek information and knowledge to have more control over our situation. That way we can pretend like we are actually in control of our life. The Greek mythologies were all about humans overcoming the gods. This was what happened to Job as well. He had some terrible things happen and he decided that he was entitled to some answers. He felt that God owed him an answer because it was his life that God had disrupted.

God answers in Job 38-41, but not how we would like Him to. He doesn’t provide all the answers to the mysteries that have been plaguing Job. Rather, He calls Job out for questioning God. He shows Job that there is a giant chasm between us and God and for us to call into question what He does is complete and utter folly. God is so beyond our comprehension that for us to question Him is basically like a pot questioning the person making it, (Romans 9:20-24). There are some things that remain mystery because God is God and we are not.

Second, mystery is good because it humbles us. We are such prideful and arrogant people. Go to a party and watch how everyone attempts to one up everyone else by showing their knowledge about something. We are constantly learning, (which is a good thing), but then taking our knowledge and instead of using it to bring glory to our King we use it to glorify ourselves. This is why Paul writes that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

When we don’t have the answer or can’t explain every situation something happens in our hearts. It causes us to realize that no matter how smart we are we can’t ever possibly know it all. It makes us realize there is and always will be someone smarter and even that smarter person can’t possibly know it all. It forces us to trust in God more because we can’t just trust in ourselves for every answer to the universe and that in turn brings us to praise God and to humble ourselves. Mystery keeps us trusting in Him who alone has all answers rather than in ourselves who only can see a tiny speck of the big picture.

Third, mystery helps us because we couldn’t possibly comprehend if we understood everything. Let me explain that a bit. I talk to many people who say they would believe God if He just showed Himself to them or if He just answered all their questions about every life mystery right now. The problem with that is that our feeble, sinful and finite minds cannot fathom this knowledge. We are so arrogant as to think that God could speak with us and that we would actually debate, argue or question Him in the process. The truth is we would either literally die from just gazing upon Him, (again see Exodus 33:20-23), or we would be so lost in His perfectness we would fall on our knees to shield our eyes, (Isaiah 6:5).

We are not meant to know every mystery because we cannot even began to comprehend the mysteries of God. It is an amazing miracle that He does communicate with us through the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that we can fully understand God. God reveals as much about Himself as we can handle. If you feel God has only revealed a little to you then that is you problem, not a God problem.

Now just because mystery is a good thing doesn’t mean we should not pursue wisdom. God commends Solomon for asking God for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. We are to spend our lives growing and learning so as to better understand God. But, this knowledge will never be complete. We cannot attempt to answer every question because it will always lead to complacency. Complacency because you figure you can’t fully know God so why even try to know Him a little or complacency because you feel you know enough and don’t need to learn anything else about Him.

So I hope that we can all learn to appreciate the mysteries of God and the universe He created more. Yes seek to grow and learn but also understand that there will always be some things you cannot possibly understand. And may that drive you to worship and praise our great God who is so far above and beyond us. May we thank Him for what He has revealed and that we can know Him personally, but may we also appreciate that we don’t worship a God who can be completely understood by us.

How we all twist the Bible

I know each of us likes to believe that our understanding of the Bible is right. Obviously, if we knew it was wrong we would change! Here’s the problem: we all have holes in our theology and in our understanding of scripture. In fact, most of us use the Bible to prove our points rather than letting the Bible be the standard by which our ideas must conform.

While this may be a sad truth, it is more sad to deny it. To think that somehow your understanding of scripture is in someway more right than millions of others who have slight disagreements sounds quite prideful and arrogant to me. And while we may all have a few holes here and there in our theology and reading of scripture, God can still use us. The Holy Spirit is powerful enough to equip us in spite of our deficiencies.

That being said, my goal today is to try and show how we can all do a better job of reading and understanding scripture. The goal is not to show that how I read and understand scripture is superior to anyone else, but rather, in humility, to show that we all fall short in our understanding, (praise God that he allows us to grasp what we can!), but can all seek to grow.

First, I believe we need to come to the Bible with humility. Like I mentioned above, I believe it is quite arrogant to claim to understand all the knowledge shared in the Bible. This book is the Word of God. God, who created and formed everything with a breath. I think that if we look at our Bible in humility God will awaken us to His truths. The dangerous approach is to come to the Bible thinking you already know or understand it fully. Open the Bible each day as if you were opening it for the first time. Treat it with humility and respect.

Secondly, don’t make it an idol. I know it is the Word of God, but the Bible is not God. Remember that the Bible is merely a book, (a special book, but still a book). I have met some people who do strange things to their Bibles. The Bible is only special because of the God we worship. Don’t let it become an idol, (see Leviticus 19:4, Leviticus 26:1). Remember to worship the Creator not His creation.

Third, treat the Bible as authority. I don’t care what background or denomination you grew up in, the Bible is your authority if you claim to know Christ as your savior. This means the Bible trumps dreams and visions, (charismatics), but also dogma and tradition, (baptists). “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16a). Yes different groups disagree about some of the meanings in scripture. But anytime there is debate or disagreement let us return to the Bible, and through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, seek to understand.

Fourth, stop prooftexting. Prooftexting is a term that basically means to take a scripture out of context in order to prove a point. For example I could tell me wife that the Bible tells her that she must do everything I say. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22-24). Just from those verses, it appears I have the authority of the Bible telling my wife to submit. But again, we must read it in context. Soon after, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and died for her. Reading the entire context, (the whole book of Ephesians for example), clearly shows that the Bible is not telling my wife to blindly submit to my iron fist, but rather teaching her how to represent the Church in her relationship to me through her submission and my love to her representing Christ.

There are countless other examples of this, (using Romans 13 to make others respect your authority, using 1 Corinthians 13 to show that the spiritual gifts have ceased, or using Romans 8:28 to show that all Christians will always prosper). The truth is you can take many verses in the Bible and twist them to your own meaning. Rather, we need to read the verses in context of what the rest of the chapter and book is saying.

With that, it is also good to understand what was going on during the time of writing. For example, Romans 13 was written because of the oppression of the Roman government and the refusal of Christians to pay taxes to Cesar. Yes it is also applicable for us today, but understanding why, to whom, where and when each book was written gives you a better understanding of what each author was saying.

Finally, get help. While the Holy Spirit does illuminate our minds to understand the Scriptures once we have accepted Jesus as our savior, He has also illuminated countless others over the years. Read some of the words of Augustine, John Calvin, A.W Tozer and the likes. Go get a Bible dictionary or Concordance to look at things you may have never considered before thanks to hours of research. Ask people who have been Christians for a long time about what they think that verse means. Check the original meaning, (Greek or Hebrew), or find someone who can tell you what it is. While this may seem too academic for many of you, I do promise that getting help will also allow you to better understand the Word of God.

So I hope all of you will open your Bible today and read it like it’s the first time you ever picked it up. May we come to the Word of God with great humility, not treating it like an idol, but rather respecting it as the authority for our Christian lives. May we stop twisting the Word to fit our ideas and rather twist our ideas to fit the Word. May we seek help and study academically, but also leave room for the spirit to move and illuminate us. May we appreciate the great gift of God’s Word and not take it for granted or use it improperly.

Compassion? But I’m Busy!

So the last two weeks have been pretty crazy. I have been teaching more recently, but have also been busier with ministry, planning for the summer, and making this website. This is all on top of the usual mundane activities like cleaning my apartment and such, (which probably explains why my apartment is such a mess…). All this to say, it feels like once I complete a task, there are ten more just waiting for me. Emails are the best example. The more I send out the more I get back! Just when it feels like I am somewhat caught up, more comes my way. (That doesn’t mean don’t send me emails, I LOVE to get emails from you all!).

That’s life. We are all busy. I don’t think any of us get to a point where we can say, “Finally, I got everything done that I needed to do.” But that’s not what I struggled with the last few weeks. I struggled with the fact that as busy and as bogged down with life as I was, there was a multitude of people that needed something from me.

Some needed advise and others just needed an ear to listen to them. Some just wanted to hang out with me or for help with something. Others needed to meet with me to organize ministry or business stuff. Regardless of what they wanted, they were asking for my time, a precious commodity to us all. And that’s where I had my problems. I was so busy, how could I possibly have time to help all these other people with their issues? I mean, I did care for them and ordinarily would jump at the chance to help, but it seems like that all changes when we are busy.

So I prayed, but not a prayer for guidance with how to handle it. It was more like, “God, why me??? I am so busy right now, can’t you send someone else to take care of these people? And hey, can’t you send some people to take care of me? Seems like everyone is asking for my help but not many are offering their help to me! What’s with that God?” Wow, how sinful I am!

So after getting over my little selfish pride issues I tried to think more about how Jesus would handle this. And I got my answer to that in Matthew 14:13-14. For these verses to really mean something though, you need to understand what’s going on. So in the beginning of chapter 14 we learn that Jesus’ relative John has been murdered. That’s why verse 13 says, “When Jesus heard this, (“this” being the death of his relative John), he withdrew from there…” Jesus had just lost someone dear to him, and wanted some time to be alone and mourn.

But then we see in verse 14 that he didn’t really get that chance. Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t mourn for our loved ones or that we can never have any time for ourselves, but I am saying that what Jesus does here is in stark contrast to how we usually live. And the key word here is compassion. Even though Jesus was sad and I imagine he was quite busy as well, he still had compassion for the people.

We can always find some excuse why we cannot help those in need around us. Maybe you are busy, but so was Jesus. Maybe you are upset, but so was Jesus. Maybe you don’t have the money, but Jesus was a homeless man! For all the excuses you and I can make Jesus shows us time and time again in the Gospels that we are to be compassionate people. There is only one excuse we can use that Jesus cannot. We are sinful and fallen, and HE is not. And that is the root issue. My lack of compassion is directly related to my concern for myself. Busyness is the microscope with which we can see the disease of our selfishness and sin.

So I want to challenge us all in two ways. First, I hope we can all find ways to be compassionate this week. Maybe it is to a friend who really needs to talk, or maybe it is with our family who wants to hear about our life. It could even be a beggar on the side of the road. Jesus took the time to intentionally have compassion on the people around him, and in doing so he left us the perfect example of how we should do the same. Don’t let your schedule dictate your love and compassion for others.

Secondly, I hope we can all be understanding when people don’t have compassion on us. We all get busy and we wish someone could help us but sometimes that doesn’t happen. We feel like others are always asking us for our help, but never offering theirs to us. When this happens, let us look to Jesus yet again, who continually put the needs of others before HIS own. There is no better example of this than on the cross. Jesus willingly put our need for forgiveness above his own life and for that we are forever grateful.

So may we all be compassionate this week. May we have compassion and love for those who need something from us, and may we also be compassionate when others do not provide for us the way we want them to. May we follow the example of Jesus Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:6-11