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The Divine Mystery

A Story

I was sitting in one of my theology classes in seminary and we were discussing some theological argument. I don’t remember which one. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. But there was heated discussion from different folks in the class who held differing perspectives. They had sound biblical reasoning to support their position. Both absolutely believed that they were right. Both considered the other to be a “heretic” for holding to the other position.

These types of discussions were normal. Whether it took place in class or the student lounge. At seminary most everyone thought they were the smartest and the most right of anyone else there. I was chief among them. My theological leanings were different from my seminary and so I was always ready for a debate, I always had my antenna up, and I was willing to squash the intellectually weaker classmates.

I had enough salesmen in me to not come across as a total jerk (or at least I thought I did, perhaps some of you reading this were my classmates and have a very different recollection of me). In my mind, at least, I was quite winsome in my arguments. I was always very certain of everything that I believed.

This would, however, change.

The Death of Certainty

As I left seminary and finished by ordination process, I was at the height of my certainty. I knew all the things. I had answers for everything. The Westminster Confession of Faith was my guide and I loved it. In my circles, I would have fit in as someone who was Truly Reformed or a “TR.” I used to quip, “I’m not a five point Calvinist, I’m a six pointer.”

“What’s the sixth point?” someone would inevitably ask.

“I believe in burning heretics,” I would chuckle. This always got a laugh.

Something happened as I began the process of planting a congregation, I can’t put my finger on when exactly.

I would sit in meetings and began to see the inner workings of churches and the denomination. I noticed more and more in the certainty of others a lack of grace. Then I noticed the same in myself. I began wrestling with the reality that perhaps, just maybe, I wasn’t right about everything. Then, I began thinking about the Divine differently than I had before.

God for me was something that was easily defined, sure I knew when and how to drop the idea of mystery, and the like. But, all in all, I had a nice, neat little box that God fit into. God was a thing that I could put my hands around. If someone else’s understanding of God didn’t fit into my box, then their God was a false god.

Simple.

But, something was happening as I read more broadly. I was reading outside of my tradition and the “safe” authors. I had relationships with people from other faith traditions. Soon, I was looking at the box that I had created and it wasn’t working any more.

The Divine Mystery

This box that was so helpful for so long became too small. Slowly, ever so slowly, I was beginning to grasp that the Divine was so much more than my box. My box was very helpful for a season. I needed the certainty that came with it. It was identity forming and gave me structure. If it wasn’t for the box that God was in, I never would have been able to comprehend that there was a Divine mystery awaiting me.

For every this-or-that, there was a formulation that included and transcended. For all of my this-or-thats there was a both-and.

The Divine mystery is awe inspiring.

As I leave the land of this-or-that for the world of both-and, I find that I’m more fascinated with those around me and the world is becoming an unlimited source of story and real mystery.

One of my favorite songs is called, Faith My Eyes, it was written by Derek Webb for Caedmon’s Call. The chorus goes like this:

So keep on coming 
These lines on the raod 
Keep me responsible 
Be it a light or a heavy load 
Keep me guessing 
These blessings in disguise 
I’ll walk with grace my feet 
And faith my eyes

Do you notice the lack of certainty in these lyrics? More and more that little line, “Keep me guessing,” has become something that I want to lean into. For much of my life I have tried to eliminate the guessing. I wanted it all to be certain, a simple equation that gave me a clear output.

Now? I’m coming to see that to “walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes,” I need to keep guessing.

The Divine mystery continues its call, further up and further in.

4 thoughts on “The Divine Mystery”

  1. Moving from “I know how this works” to “yeah, this is not as cut and dry as I thought it was” is both difficult and freeing. I’m pretty quiet with my opinions, unless someone asks, but I think deconstruction gave me permission to give ambiguous opinions. It made my fellow Christian friends uncomfortable, but at least I could be honest! Your story resonates with me a bit.

    1. Yes! I love that, “it gives me permission to give ambiguous opinions.”

      It’s so nice to be able to simply be honest. The freedom from certainty is crucial, I think, to truly coming to grips with grace.

  2. Dan, I’m interested in why you were a Calvinist? My Dad would have been described as one in his belief system, but he also believed in pre-destination. I wish I could ask him how that comports with his death by suicide…

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