31 May 2021
“Pride can make you a stranger to the throne of grace and turn humble praying for truth into ambitious arguments” – William Gurnall (The Christian in complete armour)
This statement and reminder by this saint of old is so timely as we ‘wrestle’ with the understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture and the outworking of our Christian life.
Augustine himself confessed that he had gone through so many delusions that the errors made him afraid of truth itself. If a person has too many experiences with quacks he will have a hard time trusting the skilled physician.
A traveler who is so sure he knows the way that he will not ask directions may be the first one to get lost. Watch out for pride – no matter confidently it soars now, you will later find it wrecked in the ditch of error. This is the destination God has made for pride.
This is so very relevant in the times we are living in. The Lord Jesus HImself warns us of false teachers and even false Christs. What we have and received from God we cannot keep without Him. Cherish your closeness with HIm or truth will not keep her intimacy with you very long. God is light, but you head for darkness as soon as pride suggests that you turn your back on Him.
We must acknowledge that the human mind’s creaturely and fallen status limits it. What we can know about God we can indeed know reliably; yet we cannot fully know God. God gives human intellect and reason, which are not contrary to revelation; yet they cannot apprehend all the mysteries of faith and must learn to accept the limitations under which they are obliged to operate. This is an important submission as we study the Scriptures and as we dwell on theology.
With regard to ‘mysteries’ like the ‘Trinity’ and the many ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ encountered in ‘predestination’ and other debatable issues, we cannot hope to see behind the mystery; we must look for meaning within it, accepting the limitations on comprehension and representation that this entails.
For instance, it proves impossible for us to separate the question “What is Being?” from the further and more troubling question “Who or what are we?” Since the question of Being always involves our own existence, we are here dealing not with a problem but with a mystery. A problem is something that we can view objectively and for which we can find a possible solution (mathematically or otherwise). A mystery is something that we cannot view objectively, precisely because we cannot separate ourselves from it. Although we may see a problem as an intellectual difficulty that we can resolve through abstract, analytical and objective reflection, a mystery remains alive and interesting no matter how successfully one has dealt with it in previous attempts.
The problematical is the domain of science and rational inquiry. Once we solve a problem, we may have no more interest in it. A mystery however, challenges, refreshes, and reinvigorates the theological task, not least through the expectations that fresh light has yet to break forth from mysteries that previous generations have wrestled with.
In the Middle Ages, the theology of the Trinity became the subject of considerable theological speculation, occasionally leading people to see the Trinity as little more than a mathematical puzzle or logical riddle. Thomas Kempis (1330-1471) vigorously opposed this trend, seeing the proper role of theology as leading to love for God, contrition, and a changed life. In his ‘Imitation of Christ’, Thomas sets out a strongly antispeculative approach to the Christian faith, which rests firmly on the need to obey Christ rather than to indulge in flights of intellectual fancy. Thomas even singles out speculation concerning the Trinity as something to avoid – unless it transforms us.
He wrote, “What good does it do to dispute loftily about the Trinity, but lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? It is not lofty words that make a person righteous or holy or dear to God, but a virtuous life.” It does us good to remember this.