Well, It’s a Mystery

sleuth An old George Carlin routine went like this: a young wiseacre asks the priest; “Hey, Faddah. Is God so powerful that he can make a rock so big that he himself can’t lift?” Upon which the tired priest would reply, “Well, Jimmy. It’s a mystery.” Like Carlin, overtime I became tired of what was, to me, a theological cop out. Once my parents had relaxed their grip on my spiritual development I left the church, as it came to have little relevance in my life. I was looking for real answers and the Roman Catholic Church didn’t seem to have any.

Twenty years later I was pleased to find many of those answers in Protestantism. Joining a conservative Methodist congregation I was amazed at the wealth of information to be had in the Bible. (Although we were devout and regular church goers I don’t remember ever seeing a bible in my childhood home. I think it’s much different in the Roman Catholic tradition today.) Talking with my friends, some who had also “escaped” Catholicism, we would laugh over the way the teaching sisters would so often fall back on the old “it’s a mystery” canard. They didn’t understand –there was no mystery! – everything you needed to know was right there between the black (or sometimes burgundy) covers of the Good Book.

But that was 5 years ago and since then I have come to appreciate what my Catholic teachers were saying. Too often we claim to have such a clear understanding of what God means, or what God wants, or what God will do with us that it is almost as if we could trap God under a magnifying glass. Of course we have scripture, and we have established doctrine, and we have religious dogma but none of those things, either together or separately, can come close describing what God is. Some say that just the idea of attempting to rationalize God’s existence is heresy. They say that God, by his nature, is the great unknowable presence.

Many might say that the greatest of God’s mysteries is that of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity as a concept always eluded me. Being told that I must believe it often offended me. Of course, I’m not the only one who has had a problem with this doctrine and those people that refuse to accept it are often labeled non-Christian by others.

To some of the early Greek church fathers, the most compelling aspect of the Trinity was precisely because it was incomprehensible. There was a fear that God was being quantified and categorized to the point where various groups of people would claim to ‘know’ things about something that was truly unknowable. As Karen Armstrong tells it in “A History of God”, the Western church, greatly influenced by Augustine (who was greatly influenced by Plato)

“would continue to talk and explain. Some imagined that when they said “God”, the divine reality actually coincided with the idea in their minds. Some would attribute their own thoughts and ideas to God – saying that God wanted this, forbade that and had planned the other – in a way that was dangerously idolatrous. The Greek Orthodoxy, however, would remain mysterious, and the Trinity would continue to remind Eastern Christians of the provisional nature of their doctrines.”

Now, that’s something I can get my mind around.


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  1. #1 by Robert on January 11, 2008 - 5:33 pm

    You gotta love George Carlin!

    That man can have me in stitches over the most seemingly innocuous things. Reference his analysis of airline travel and the various euphemisms.

    His religious humor is shockingly biting but I love it!

    You haven’t lived until you’ve heard his ‘deconstruction’ of the Ten Commandments.

    I agree with you that sometimes it seem that the people who claim to love God the most seem the most willing to put God into a box.

    The make God in their image.

    Excellent post!!!


  2. #2 by Steve on January 11, 2008 - 6:17 pm

    The Greek Orthodoxy, however, would remain mysterious, and the Trinity would continue to remind Eastern Christians of the provisional nature of their doctrines.

    Sounds like we had the same experience. I was raised catholic and attended catholic grade school. And as you said, “It’s a mystery” always seemed like a cop out. After i left the church and found Christ, I felt like the veil had been lifted – no more dead liturgy or mystery religion. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to see the wisdom in the Orthodox view of mystery. A God I can know is not a God I want. By definition, He is beyond our comprehension and any claim to have all the answers seems as ludicrous as the nuns’ “It’s a mystery.”

    All that said, I still think it’s possible to know His will through prayer, study of the Word, and fellowship.

  3. #3 by Christian on January 11, 2008 - 7:51 pm

    Thanks Rob. I haven’t listened to anything new from Carlin in a few years. Seems like he’s getting crankier as he gets older. (Just like me)

    Steve, agreed. I don’t know if God wants me to be a doctor, a lawyer or a missionary to India but I do know that whatever I do he wants me to do it unselfishly and with love. As I said on an earlier post, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is undoubtedly an important part of what he wants from all of us.

  4. #4 by inWorship on January 12, 2008 - 12:50 am

    The mystery of it all is what I love, but, I want so desperately at times to have the answer, but I do not.

    My Christian duty is not to have the answers, but to love the one who does.

    Boxes piss me off, yet I find myself owning so many. I don;t ever want to be put in one. How dare I place my God in one. I think we want to have a grasp…control. In this endeavor, we limit…and imprison.

    The reality is that God can’t be contained. If I choose to box Him in my little head, I have chosen to limit myself to who He is and what He is doing around me. I will never experience Him if I limit Him to my beliefs.

  5. #5 by BuddyO on January 12, 2008 - 12:56 am

    “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith” [ring-a-ling-a-ling]

    Man the mystical aspect of faith is the part I love the most. The mystery is the source for our hope.

  6. #6 by logiopath on January 12, 2008 - 1:21 am

    I’ll stay out of this one too–except to say that the West sees faith as a satisfaction of God’s justice system. The East sees faith as a way to know God, with many open questions.

    West sees this life as the key to eternity, The East sees eternity as a continuation of this life.

    If we were following Jesus, perhaps we would convert to Eastern Christianity–after all, it all started in Jeruselam and Antioch, which are way far east of Rome.

  7. #7 by Christian on January 12, 2008 - 1:48 am

    Way to hold back, Bruce! 8)

  8. #8 by logiopath on January 13, 2008 - 9:41 pm

    Honestly, I think we need to separate what we call “Church” from that which Jesus started back in the Old Days. Unfortunately, we have built so many rituals on top of the simple faith Jesus preached, that along the way what Jesus taught has been lost amid the ages (and we “Protestants” have as many rituals and rules as Catholics, we pretend we don’t).

  9. #9 by logiopath on January 13, 2008 - 9:42 pm

    P. S. At least Catholic leaders have the courtesy to write and revise their dogma–Protestants seem to make things up as they go along.

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