Reflection: The Tension of Revelation and Mystery
Even before doing the readings for this week, I have been pondering over the tension between knowing about God and acknowledging how much we don’t know about God. I think most people naturally gravitate towards one or the other. For me the past few years, it has been more of the former, and then occasionally I am swept up in some new thought or new experience or new way of looking at a biblical text – a revelation, you could say – and I am reminded of just how much I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking a lot in terms of the concept of relationship, particularly the marriage analogy. Marriage is an image used frequently throughout Scripture and I feel like I’m always finding new ways of seeing God through that especially as at the same time my own romantic relationship continues to develop. I see a direct line of connection between my baptism, in which I formally declared my commitment to Jesus, and my hypothetical future wedding day, on which I will formally declare my commitment to my wife. This is where I think the analogy should continue but often doesn’t in the minds of people pondering faith. I will know a fair bit about my future wife on that day and it will be enough that I am confident in that commitment. However, I won’t know everything. Rather, I look forward to having more continually revealed to me for the rest of our lives together.
I find that when most people talk about faith, they usually are thinking of one extreme or the other: they either must know everything about God before they can make any commitment or they think that once they have made a commitment they must simply trust and no longer strive to get to know God any further. Extending these attitudes towards marriage would be a ridiculous way of thinking and I can only conclude that the fundamental problem is that God is usually treated as an intellectual pursuit rather than a relational one. An intellectual pursuit is black and white – the goal is finding the correct answer – and that is very different than a relational framework. I think this is the wrong conception of faith, and at the heart of it is the tension between revelation and mystery.
I think Scripture is a beautiful example of this in itself. It reveals many things which I believe are true looks into God’s character and action throughout history. Yet it also is clearly not the straight-forward systematic theology textbook that the intellectual view of faith often wishes it would be. In Scripture, we find both revelation and mystery. Furthermore, I would argue that the text itself is not the fullest Word of God; instead, Jesus is the ultimate revelation. I don’t think God could ever be fully revealed through obtaining detached knowledge. I think God only can, and did, fully reveal his self through a relational approach.
This does not remove the need for intellectual pursuit of God. As with my future wife, I will continue to actively search out knowledge about God. This knowledge of God may be revealed through the text of Scripture (which I consider to be a filter for other sources of revelation), or through the work of the Spirit in his various ways, through words from others who bear God’s image, through seemingly coincidental signs, through common sense, or any other number of ways that God chooses as a way to display himself to us. I have focused primarily on being able to embrace mystery because that is the end that I myself am learning to embrace more fully but listening to and wrestling with revelation is equally as important.