A mystical faith?

Our approach to God must always be accompanied by the humble recognition that he deserves our worship.

No one has ever accused me of being a mystic. For one thing, I don’t dress the part. No flowing robes or beard down to the belly. Corduroy trousers and tweed jackets are my style. But even apart from sartorial evidence, my writings show few signs of flirting with mysticism. I love the carefully constructed logical argument, whose symmetry I find deeply satisfying – even beautiful!

Nevertheless, I have always known that mystery accompanies faith in the God who created us and saved us through Jesus Christ. Part of this may flow from my paternal Orthodox roots, but even a Reformed Christian upbringing made me aware of God’s presence in a way that defies explanation.

To be sure, some types of Reformed theology have undertaken to define God as though he were a specimen to be examined under glass. Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is God?” the response to which lists a series of attributes that will apparently enable us to know something about God, along with the appropriate biblical proof texts. Article 1 of the Belgic Confession does something similar.

No neat categories

This is not, of course, to say that I disagree that God is eternal, wise, just, holy, and so forth. But we cannot add all of these characteristics up to get God. God reveals himself to us as he chooses, and he cannot be captured in a theoretical concept. He doesn’t bother to define himself to our satisfaction. In Exodus 3, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush – a centuries-old symbol of Reformed Christianity, by the way – and announced himself as “I AM WHO I AM,” not taking the trouble to be more specific or to fill in the details.

Yet Moses recognized God immediately and responded with appropriate fear and reverence. He didn’t need to make a further inquiry along scientific lines.

I wish that the Westminster divines had phrased question 4 this way: “Who is God?” This would have elicited a more biblical response, similar to what God told Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (verse 6). As heirs of the New Covenant, we might add that he has uniquely revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ and renews us through his Holy Spirit. God has graciously enabled us to know him directly even if there is so much that we must leave unsaid about him.

Our approach to God must always be accompanied by the humble recognition that God is God and deserves our worship, not our feeble efforts to account for him in neat categories. If that makes me a mystic, then I suppose I must plead guilty.


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