Written by J. I. Packer |
Thursday, September 7, 2023
Paul shows, and shares, his awareness that the God of Jesus remains the God of Job, and that the highest wisdom of the theological theorist, even when working under divine inspiration as Paul did, is to recognize that he is, as it were, gazing into the sun, whose very brightness makes it impossible for him fully to see it; so that at the end of the day he has to admit that God is much more to him than theories can ever contain, and to humble himself in adoration before the one whom he can never fully analyze.
Faith Knowledge and Mystery
What sort of knowledge of God’s action in Christ’s death may we have? That a man named Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate around AD 30 is common historical knowledge, but Christian beliefs about his divine identity and the significance of his dying cannot be deduced from that fact alone. What further sort of knowledge about the cross, then, may Christians enjoy?
The answer, we may say, is faith knowledge: by faith we know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Yes, indeed; but what sort of knowledge is faith knowledge? It is a kind of knowledge of which God is both giver and content. It is a Spirit-given acquaintance with divine realities, given through acquaintance with God’s word. It is a kind of knowledge that makes the knower say in one and the same breath, “Whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25 KJV) and “Now we see in a mirror, dimly . . . now I know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12 NKJV). For it is a unique kind of knowledge that, though real, is not full; it is knowledge of what is discernible within a circle of light against the background of a larger darkness; it is, in short, knowledge of a mystery, the mystery of the living God at work.
“Mystery” is used here as it was by Charles Wesley when he wrote:
’Tis mystery all! The immortal dies!Who can explore his strange design?In vain the firstborn seraph triesTo sound the depths of love divine!1
“Mystery” in this sense (traditional in theology) means a reality distinct from us that in our very apprehending of it remains unfathomable to us: a reality that we acknowledge as actual without knowing how it is possible, and that we therefore describe as incomprehensible. Christian metaphysicians, moved by wonder at the world, speak of the created order as “imagery,” meaning that there is more to it, and more of God in it, than they can grasp; and similarly Christian theologians, taught by revelation, apply the same word to the self-revealed and self-revealing God, and to his work of reconciliation and redemption through Christ.