“Once when the spice market in Holland was a little slack, the merchants had some cargoes dumped at sea to force up the price. That was a pardonable, perhaps necessary stratagem. Is it something similar we need in the world of spirit?”
-Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.
It is comfortable to have God figured out. It’s comfortable to know how he works, when he works, and why he does what he does. It’s comfortable to have a tight system that is brutally consistent and leaves no questions unanswered. It is comfortable to have a monopoly on the ways of God. If you have God figured out, the omnipotent comes under your control, you can peer into the mind of the omniscient, you can transcend the confines of humanity. With a comprehensive knowledge of the holy, you can level any foe who dares to construct a rival system with their audacious, misguided, nay, heretical positions on the divine. You can know everything there is to know about the nuances of God…
…and lose Christianity. And fail to see who God really is, and how we are to relate to him.
Any attempt to compartmentalize the deity results in glaring exceptions to our systems. So isn’t it time that we stop compartmentalizing him?
Systemic theologies can be useful, yes. Systemic theologies allow us to approximate the actual, to explain as best as we can the nature of God. But insofar as systemic theologies are derived by human interpretations, fallible man’s attempts to glimpse into the divine, they are not exhaustive and they are not infallible, they are human. I believe in Scripture alone, not my conception of Scripture alone.
A distinction must be drawn between a systemic theology and a systemic God. The principles upon which God operates transcend the corrupt faculties of fallen humanity. The foreshadowing of the Messiah left even the prophets bewildered, blocked behind human reason in an attempt to grasp the paradox of a triumphant king who is simultaneously suffering, crushed and afflicted. That is, until God descended to the body of a man and triumphed over death and sin by offering himself as our atonement.
This is progressive revelation. This is man, limited by the very nature of humanity, glimpsing the divine solely because it pleased God to grant it to him.
The disciple is just that, a disciple. One who is learning the ways of his master. But as we learn the ways of our master, we will find areas that we cannot resolve. As we study, we realize that many minds greater than us have come to radically different interpretations of Scripture. And so we approach it with utmost humility, excising all preconceived notions that may radically skew our interpretations. We dump the spice cargoes. And when we get to a part that we cannot resolve, we rest assured that Someone greater than us has it figured out.
And from this, we develop a specific approach to Scripture. One that boils down everything we think we know, and dives instead at the main question – what is the essence of Christianity? How does it play out in the way we live our lives? How do we approach the holy? We approach these questions in faith, and with knowledge that whatever intricate divine workings are at play, God is in control so that we don’t have to be. As we keep God at the center, it may be that he will reveal an aspect of himself to us.
We don’t need to systematize God. We don’t need exhaustive knowledge. We don’t need to drag divine reason down to human faculties. We have faith in a transcendent deity who has worked out all the details.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. “
By Nick Barden
By Nick Barden