Christianity and Pluralism (4): A Christian Agnostic

After the last three days of posts, you might get the sense that I think I know a whole lot more than I do. Well, that very well may be true. I guess only time will tell. But if you get the feeling that I think I know everything….I will respectfully disagree. (Bummer for me though.) In fact, an essential part of my belief in God is that he is incomprehensible. And if I can’t know everything about him, there’s sure to be more about this world I am quite ignorant about.

Lesslie Newbigin writes:

…it is essential to the integrity of our witness to this new reality [or the good news of Christianity] that we recognize that to be its witnesses does not mean to be the possessors of all truth. It means to be placed on the path by following which we are led toward the truth. (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 12)

In the Christian tradition I come from, there is a huge emphasis on the fact (and I use that word intentionally, cf. yesterday’s post) that God is incomprehensible. We cannot wrap our mind around him. As much as I write about God on this blog, think about him, read about him, and pray to him, I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around him. Maybe you’ve felt like that. You’ve grasped for God and he’s slipped through your fingers of your intellect, so you resigned yourself to agnosticism or just stopped caring. If you have ever felt that way, you might be interested to hear that a guy who wrote 4 volumes of theology (plus a whole bunch more), Herman Bavinck, has this to say about his own profession:

Mystery is the lifeblood of theological reflection. From the start of its labors, dogmatic theology is shrouded in mystery; it stands before God the incomprehensible One. (RD,Abridged, 147)

And Newbigin, the guy who for the last three days may have sounded to you like he’s incredibly sure of himself, writes this:

There is indeed a proper place for agnosticism in the Christian life. There is a true sense in which we are–with others–seekers after truth. (GPS, 12)

But, seeking is not genuine seeking if we’re not even open to finding. We have to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes its tempting to just wallow in doubt, always saying we’re looking for answers to our questions but not allowing ourselves ever to settle on them–almost afraid to stop doubting. It seems to me that’s a whole lot like a bachelor saying he’s looking for a spouse but methodologically (even Jerry Seinfeld-esque) finding something wrong with the women he dates.

I imagine that at least sometimes what generates this doubting despair is this mystery about God that we’ve been talking about. “Well,” someone says, “If I can’t ever comprehend God, what’s the point in trying? I can’t really know him can I? So why don’t we all just go our own way, try our best, and hope it all works out?”

Good question. But it turns out there is a prior question…how do you know God is incomprehensible if you can’t know anything about God at all? To put it positively, to make the claim that we can’t fully know God is to say that we do know at least something about him–namely, that he’s incomprehensible. And how did we come to know that?

Bavinck might put it this way. We cannot comprehend God, but we can apprehend God. A God who is so spectacular as to be incomprehensible to us could easily be spectacular enough to accommodate some of himself to our way of understanding. That’s what Christians think God did with the Bible.

That is exactly what Christians think God did when he sent Jesus, his own Son, to walk the earth in human form. In Christ, God the Incomprehensible One made himself known. The day after my beautiful little nephew, Jayden, is born, I can’t help but be amazed that God himself came to earth as something so easily and intimately known yet so wonderfully enigmatic as a baby.

Let’s let Newbigin bring this home for us:

When Christians affirm, as they do, that Jesus is the way, the true and living way by whom we come to the Father (John 16:4), they are not claiming to know everything. They are claiming to be on the way, and inviting others to join them as they press forward toward the fullness of the truth, toward the day when we shall know as we have been known. (GPS, 12)

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