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Confessing the mystery of God

June 22, 2016 No Comment
Rev. Paul Zabel

Rev. Paul Zabel

by Paul Zabel

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

Almost everybody likes a good mystery, but few of us are comfortable with an unsolved mystery. We get itchy! We want to figure it out and resolve it. During the week of Pentecost and prior to Trinity Sunday, my wife, Judy, and I had an opportunity to travel to Greenwood, Indiana and spend some time with my parents. My mother is an avid reader and some of the books that she enjoys reading are mystery romance novels. We always return home with a number of these books, as she passes them on to my wife. Even I must confess, in finding one of these books on an end table in our living room, I pick it up, read a few pages, and then I’m hooked. I find myself intrigued by the mystery and need to find out how it is going to be resolved or how it is going to end. Of course, when my children and grandchildren come over I never admit to them that once in a while I, too, read these books.

When we returned home from our visit with my parents, the next Sunday was Trinity Sunday. On the Festival of the Holy Trinity, we also enter a realm of mystery. We celebrate and worship God, whose ways are beyond human understanding and whose nature is beyond the grasp of our small minds. “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?” Scripture asks, “Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7).

One of the great Bible scholars of history is St. Augustine. One legend has him strolling the beach one morning, his mind teeming with theological questions, trying to understand the Scriptures that he had read over again and again. But he couldn’t seem to find the logic that would make it all fit together. Absentmindedly, he stopped to watch a little child playing on the beach. The child had dug a hole in the sand and now he was running back and forth with a seashell, taking water from the ocean and hurrying to pour water into the hole he had dug. St. Augustine walked over to the child and asked what he was doing. The child explained that he was trying to pour the ocean into the hole that he had made in the sand. With sudden insight St. Augustine realized that this is just what he had been doing—foolishly trying to empty the mystery of God into his small mind!

How many times do the mysteries of God also confront us, and we cannot explain them in rational terms. An example of this was presented in the Old Testament Lesson appointed and read this past Trinity Sunday. In this Scripture lesson recorded for us in Proverbs, chapter 8 we were confronted with “wisdom” being personified as the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. How can we logically explain how our Lord Jesus existed even before the beginning of time as we know it? How can our God be one God, yet three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Like St. Augustine we, too, must confront the mysteries of God with a simple childlike trust. We should not be so concerned that at all times we have a complete logical understanding about all the things of God lest we make our God too small, wrap Him up into a neat little package, and eventually not permit Him to be God at all!

We should not be so concerned that at all times we have a complete logical understanding about all the things of God lest we make our God too small, wrap Him up into a neat little package, and eventually not permit Him to be God at all.

We rejoice that we are not asked to understand, but only believe, in the same way a child in Sunday school believes and may say from the bottom of his or her heart, “Jesus loves me; this I know!” We rejoice that we are not asked to explain but only to proclaim, so that all the world may know Jesus’ name—from the smallest to greatest—and to know and believe that Jesus saves sinners, of whom I am one! We do not pretend to be wise. We do not understand even one of the mysteries of our God. We do not need to! Christ is our Wisdom. All thanks to Him, and all glory to God

I know my faith is founded, on Jesus Christ my God and Lord;
And this my faith confessing, unmoved I stand on His sure Word.
Our reason cannot fathom the truth of God profound;
Who trusts in human wisdom relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient, it makes divinely sure,
And trusting in its wisdom, My faith shall rest secure. (LSB #587)

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Rev. Paul Zabel is President of the East District of Lutheran Church–Canada