Embracing God’s mysteries
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 1st Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, 11 to be exact, I lived next door to a Catholic rectory. It was the home of several priests who presided over the church adjacent to our house. To me they were the men in black who smiled and waved but never spoke.
There was an air of mystery that dignified them and took hold of my curiosity. I’d knock on their door hoping to stump them with my 11 year old logic. “Could God could create a stone so heavy that He Himself couldn’t lift?” The older one answered with a kindly nod at their un-mowed grass, a smile, and a folded $5 dollar bill between his fingers. They were glad-handing the nutty little kid from next door and it worked well! I mowed their lawn three summers on the idea that it was better to be rich than wise. But those tough questions have never escaped the grip of my fascination.
My oldest daughter has always been curious about the things of God as well. She is not afraid to ask tough questions or take the word and test it. If something seems unreasonable, she’s willing to challenge it. At age 4 I remember her bouncing out of the bathroom, dripping wet with tears in her eyes, and in her little southern twang, she said:
“Daddy, diddin you say that anathing is true with God if you just believe hard enough?”
“Sure sweet girl, absolutely!” (loosely interpreting scripture)
“Weyell daddy… I‘ve just come from the basstub and it was feeled up to the top.”
“Uh- huh”Thoughts of the wet floor distract me from really listening.
“Uh huh?” I responded while reaching for the bathroom door.
“Weyell, I’ve been try’n and try’n to walk on na water the whole time and I just cain’t do it. I’m reely sorry daddy, I believed I could do it with God’s help, but I cain’t, num reely sorry.”
I gave her a hug and wiped away her tears (how do you respond that?). I just hugged her again and asked God for help. His voice came audibly to me in an instant (it rarely happens) “Anything is possible with Me, but not everything is useful to Me. Peter walked on the water only after I said ‘come’.” I backed away from her face so she could see my eyes and relayed that message in my own words.
“Sweet girl… It is possible for you to walk on water! But only IF it’s something God wants you to do. Did He tell you to walk on the water?”
“No daddy, he diddin, I just wonted to.”
I turned away, snickering, but she caught me and grinned with her whole face! Her happy little eyes squeezed out a half-formed tear, and we found ourselves laughing about it – she’s quite a chuckler! I told her to keep listening for God’s voice. If He ever tells her to walk on the water, then she can do it! (if she has faith). But before I could finish, she was on to the next subject.
I cleaned the bathroom floor and remembered the priest. What would he do with with a heart broken 4 year old who believes she can walk on water? She certainly won’t mow the grass! What do we do with the things that offend our minds and defy logic? Are we lazily dismissive in the name of productivity? What 4 year old or 11 year old have you ever heard say “well I suppose its just beyond our comprenehsion”? Is that why mysteries exist? So we can say that? A child wants the answer in spite of the odds. The adult considers it an impossible waste of time. So what’s the point?
It’s okay that we don’t know, but it’s not okay to let go!
Maybe the mystery has a deeper purpose than our understanding; but one we can’t afford to ignore? After all, who can explain the internet to an insect? But concealing the depth of God may actually reveal the personality of God (even better). Like a game of hide and go seek where God hides His ideas in the heavens, but tucks Himself just out of sight, one block up, and around the next corner. We faithfully count with our eyes closed while He anticipates the ready-or-not moment. We go looking for the answer but find Him instead.
Whether a man tries to move a mountain by faith, or a 4 year old attempts to walk on water; it shows their willingness to dive in, take the challenge, and STOP IGNORING HIM. He delights in our search like a father hiding behind the curtain while his child tiptoes nearby. And He smiles when we challenge Him with our flimsy logic, like a 6 year boy challenges his father, with a flimsy rubber sword. It’s not insulting, its endearing.
Listen, I’m only good for one or two rounds of hide and go seek with my kids (they’re older now), but if my daughter counts to 10 and then comes running, you better believe my heart thumps! And I will hide for the sheer Joy of that moment when she finds me and we laugh together. Is our heavenly Father any less loving? The mystery may be the only way He can us get us to participate.
What does this verse mean to you? Matthew 17:20b
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Embracing the mystery – defined
Jesus said we could move a mountain if we had enough faith. That is astonishing and seemingly impossible – right? So how do we embrace a verse like this? Let’s start by looking at the norm. Most will agree… Jesus said it, He meant it, and that settles it! Some of us agree with our lips but discretely dismiss the verse as anything literal. “Moving a mountain by faith is only an allegory”. Yet we still believe that a man was literally born to a virgin, resurrected from the dead, fed 5000 with a few loaves, and walked on the water. We think to ourselves “mountains just don’t get up and move!” But try telling that to the community of Mt St. Helen’s, Washington.
Others hold that it can be literal or allegorical depending on what God is teaching us in that moment. It may be a mountain of earth excavated so a church can be built, or a mountain of debt that God removes through financial blessing or debt forgiveness. Truly embracing a verse like this or any other mystery in scripture requires the willingness of a child and vision of an adult. We don’t have to labor over it like an odd puzzle piece and neither do we have the right to dismiss it as useless. In faith, ask God to reveal the mystery and listen carefully to what He impresses on your heart.
Jeremiah 33:2-3 (The Message)
2-3″This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’
I’m not suggesting that we stop thinking. With any discussion we’ll need to think, but thinking is natural for us, it’s the easy part. Listening is NOT. If we don’t follow the verse above, we reduce everything to our own understanding, and overlook the potential of God’s voice. Selective hearing can rot a marriage from the inside out. Let’s be sure as the bride of Christ, that we are listening fully to Him, and selectively only to ourselves.
The way of a child is to lean upon his own understanding, but an adult (mature believer) seeks God for the answer instead of himself. When I asked the priest that question I was a child. When my daughter tried to walk on water she was a child (still is). The priest wouldn’t answer me, and I couldn’t answer her until God spoke to my heart about it.
Embracing means you take hold of it, pray over it, ask God to reveal it, walk in it, and practice it. But you rest in the Lord, and are okay if it doesn’t quite make sense. Let’s not dismiss it when it looks implausible and say that we’re embracing the mystery by leaving it alone. God is more interested our intimacy with Him than our understanding of what He’s doing. But God often gives us the understanding as a result of our seeking the intimacy.
We’re either ten feet tall when our children listen, or ten feet down a hole when they pretend we don’t exist. If God is just out of sight and we race passionately toward His voice; He takes pleasure in revealing beautiful things that move us, change us, and wake up our faith!
I have one more personal example to help illustrate everything above, and several questions I’d like to ask you. But I’ll mercifully stop here for now and finish this post as a part 2. The subject is a bit abstract so thank for you for taking the time to dig in with me. My next post should bring it down to earth somewhat 🙂 Also, a few weeks have passed and some good things have developed on the personal side. We’ll catch up just shortly in part 2.
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