fact and faction, myth and mystery

***

The arguments rage on. There is no shortage of data to choose from: piled on desks, arranged in neatly labelled folders, staring us in the face empirically as matter or facts, compiled into dense tomes or concise pamphlets. They are ubiquitous, obvious, confusing, and overwhelming. Evidence for God. Evidence for atheism. Creationism. Evolution. Even within the confines of each possibility lie a myriad of micro-arguments, sometimes even more divisive than the greater subjects themselves. Specifically in the Christian realm there are hundreds of doctrinal dichotomies waiting to ensnare: Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Non-denominational, Works vs. Grace, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, etc. etc. If we chose to, we could spend our entire lives debating these topics, and very likely we would be no closer to settling these issues than we are now.

Facts bombard us constantly like thousands of tiny music notes: even though we all have access to the same ones, depending which you choose you can make nearly anything sound beautiful and fulfilling. Given this broad spectrum of possibilities for “truth,” it can be quite difficult sometimes to know what to believe. Currently this is manifesting itself in my life in the shape of one particular question: how much of my salvation depends on me?

You can make very convincing arguments for both “none of it” and “all of it,” and for probably every balance in between. Granted, salvation was initiated by God both collectively for us (in the form of Christ) and particularly for me (in the form of many different interventions and circumstances in my life.) Yet i am still responsible for my response to these interjections, aren’t i? Or is it truly the case that i am utterly powerless, so even my response to the opportunity of salvation must be set in motion by God? And if that is so, how can i be judged for my sin if i need Him to rescue me from it?

i have no intention of answering these questions, for one chief reason: i have no clue what the answers are. There is some mystical balance between God’s handiwork and my activity in that handiwork that is far beyond my comprehension. One thing i do know: if we believe into Christ we are saved. That is what is explained, and that is what i need to know. Paul must have faced similar debates in his time, and his response was thus:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2 : 1 – 5

There is only so much debate on difficult topics that will do us good. i do not think we are called to suspend wisdom, nor do i advocate for ignorance and turning blind eyes to subject matter that is hard to understand. There are many instances in Scripture where we are also called to learn as much as possible about the Lord and about His redemptive work on our behalf. In fact, Paul goes on to say in the next verse:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

1 Corinthians 2 : 6 – 7

Yet nevertheless we will encounter (and i think in fact the more we dig into complicated issues the more we will do so) places and doctrines and issues where human wisdom will never suffice to explain or comprehend. We must learn to let go in these instances, and this for two reasons.

First, the imminent danger when we come up against subjects we do not truly understand is painting a picture to look like whatever happens to be convenient to doctrine or principles we currently hold true. Though i will no doubt incite the masses against me here, i think the fossil record is a perfect example of this kind of historical or philosophical Gestalt perception. Given enough arbitrary bones and significant tectonic upheaval, we could come to believe in the existence of all kinds of mythical (but unfortunately a million years extinct) creatures, and there would be little anyone could do to disprove our claims. i have no intention of launching into a debate on the historicity of the fossil record here, i merely use it as one example to demonstrate that throughout the years, many different “creatures” have been “proven” to have existed, only to be invalidated later by other suppositions. And even in saying this, i am falling prey to the very pitfall i am warning against: where facts and figures leave our knowledge incomplete at best (and if we are honest this is almost all of the time) then all we do by choosing sides is divide ourselves from those on the other one. Specifically as it relates to Christian doctrine such division is dangerous and fatal, and can be extraordinarily harmful to not only our personal walks but our cause at large.

The second reason, when i finally grasped it, opened my heart in a way that had not happened before. We must let go, and should let go, of these issues, not because we cannot know the answers, though this is true, but because truly we do not need to. There is a profound and liberating freedom in the realization that not only are we not supposed to be our own god, but we do not have to be! We do not need to know everything if we rest in the One who does. i do not need to fully understand the mechanisms of salvation to participate in it, because it is undeniably initiated by grace in the first place. Letting go of being God, of needing to know, had a monumental impact on my life when the revelation struck me.

Someone please explain this paradox then: knowing that i do not need to know, and yet not knowing how to live in that knowledge. Profound mysteries abound.

***

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.     – Isaiah 55 : 8 – 9

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2 thoughts on “fact and faction, myth and mystery

  1. Hi Rich! I read your post on Thursday night, and then on Friday morning, we went to Mass. I smiled and thought of you when I saw the prescribed antiphon for Communion for the day (it’s used all over the world, not just by the church we were at). “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

    Like

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