A.W. Tozer once wrote in The Pursuit of God:
“The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things.”
What Tozer is getting at here, I think, is the correct way to respond to the mysteries of the Almighty. This is an important thing for us as Christians, because it is our great joy and our responsibility to be seeking God on a daily basis. And yet there is a certain irony to that seeking, because we are continually seeking that which we have already found.
To use an illustration, consider the ocean. The oceans of the world cover about 140 million square miles, or nearly 71% of the Earth’s surface. The average depth of the ocean is around 12,000 feet, with the deepest point being in the Mariana Trench at 36,000 feet. Through years of exploration, we know tons of things about the ocean, and yet to date scientists would say that we have only explored 5% of what’s there. Despite being the lifeblood of the planet, covering more than 70% of its surface, we know a comparatively small amount.
Now take that and multiply it by infinity.
Because of the gospel, we can know God, and yet we cannot exhaustively know God. There are mysteries of the divine that we do not have the capacity to plumb, for His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. Indeed, as far as the heaven is higher than the earth, so are His ways and thoughts higher than ours (Is. 55:8-9).
So how do we respond to these mysteries? As Tozer says, there is an inappropriate way. We can respond to the mysteries clinically, like a scientist examining a specimen on a slide, trying to pick apart every single instance and every single act. We can also respond with exasperation, like someone who sees the task before them as being so intimidating that it’s not even worth the time. Or we can respond like so many have in the past, by going too far in our attempts to understand God, and therefore distorting who He is in an attempt to bring Him down to our level.
Conversely, though, we can respond appropriately. What does that look like, to embrace the mystery of God and the fact that God has made Himself knowable to us through Christ? To honor the God who desires us to know Him and yet not reach too far beyond the knowledge He has granted? I’d suggest at least three proper ways to respond to the mysteries of God to strike this balance:
- We respond with worship
Consider Paul’s explanation point on the first eleven chapters of Romans in which he delved deeply into the mysteries of God:
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him, and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Paul’s response to the mysteries of God is one of humble worship, and so also ours should be. When we come up against that which is too lofty for us to understand, the result should not be frustration, but humility. And it’s an opportunity to affirm through our worship just how limited we are in our human finiteness, especially when compared to who God is.
- We respond with limitations
When we look to the Bible, it’s good for us to see that the Bible doesn’t seem to feel the same need to have everything of God as completely parsed out as we do. We don’t find there a theological explanation of just how God can harden Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh harden his own heart during the days of the Exodus. We don’t find the biblical writers feeling the need to explain how the doctrine of election exactly squares with the human responsibility of repentance and faith.
In other words, we find limitations in Scripture. And one of the ways we respond appropriately to these mysteries of God is through accepting the limitations we find in God’s own book. We tell ourselves that here is where the Bible stops, and that is also where we will stop.
- We respond by looking to Jesus
How wonderful is the fact that God has sent Jesus to us that we might know Him. In John 17, we find Jesus’ disciples asking all kinds of questions about God, about where Jesus is going, and how to follow Him. And Jesus’ answer to these questions is beautifully simple:
“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:7).
When we come up against the mysteries of God, it is an opportunity to focus our gaze on Jesus, God in the flesh. It’s a chance for us to believe what Jesus told us, that He is all the fullness of God, the very Word made flesh, to reveal the Father to us. When we look to Jesus, we see God.
Which brings us back to Tozer. God invites us to seek Him, but not to seek Him with the arrogance of believing we will “figure Him out.” Instead, we are to seek God, and His mystery, to the end of humble worship of His Son.