Series Introduction: I’m writing a series of posts that share my testimony–not the story of how I came to be, as they say, “born again” but an explanation of the aspects of the Christian Worldview that I treasure more and more as I grow in the faith. Check out Hope (Part 1) here and Counterintuitivity (Part 2) here.
This is probably the hardest part for Western intellectuals to swallow: In Christianity, we learn to live with the tension caused by complexity and mystery. It has been my experience that people who see themselves as “intellectuals” want everything to be explained and explainable. Intellectuals, in a sense, worship their own intellect. If it doesn’t make sense to us, we can’t trust it. We want to be able to explain and understand all things. How else can we come up with a plan for our lives? How else can we know we are living a meaningful life? Some of the most common challenges to Christianity that I hear are questions like “If God is so good and powerful, why does he allow evil?” or “If God is loving, how can he judge anyone for anything?” These questions prevent many from understanding Christianity and therefore keep many from submitting to Christ.
I have answers for these questions that satisfy my soul, but will not attempt to explain them. They are questions worth asking and searching out for yourself, but they are not the theme of my present meditation. I will say this: Christianity recognizes that there are some complex ideas that must be held in tension (for example, the reality of God’s love and his justice) and must remain somewhat mysterious. This is one of the attributes of Christianity I’ve come to love the most, though it created a powerful mental roadblock for me as a young teen, I’ll admit. I have a worldview that encompasses mystery. There is room for wonder and questioning and doubt and faith.
Our Intellect has Limits
Even intellectuals must acknowledge this: our intellect has limited power. Even if we truly and deeply understand something, it can still be very difficult to do it. Most people KNOW that it is better to eat vegetables than McDonald’s, better to exercise than to eat ice cream, better to read than to watch Keeping up with the Kardashians, or better to quit than to continue smoking. But how hard is it to actually resist these temptations? Our intellect can be completely convinced and we can still be powerless to change.
You may not desire to keep the Bible’s moral standards, but perhaps you have your own moral standards about what makes a good person. Even if your intellect is fully convinced that you need to be more grateful and generous, you will probably find it difficult to be grateful and generous to the extent that you want. I say all this simply to illustrate: our intellect is limited in power.
Christians acknowledge and embrace their own failures to maintain the standards their intellect tells them they should. We rejoice in weakness! Because weakness is the point at which we must reach out for help and it is good for our souls to do so. It cultivates humility and empathy and generosity of spirit to accept help.
It also leads to worship. We recognize that there is plenty we cannot accomplish through our own intellect. We also recognize that there is plenty we cannot comprehend with our intellect. And this is okay! We don’t have to have answers! We worship a God who understands and is working out his plan for this world. We don’t have to have our own answers and our own plan in order to have a meaningful life. We can have a meaningful life by embracing God and trusting his goodness and his knowledge of the complexities of life. Again, words fail to convey how deeply satisfying this is for my own soul.
Our Intellect Wants to Eliminate Mystery
I treasure these words from Paul Washer, made famous for his “Shocking Youth Message” (someone else’s title for a very honest, challenging speech he gave at a youth conference a few years back.) Washer said in a recent interview that one of his concerns about this present generation is:
…the tendency to deny or eliminate mystery from the person and works of God. We must remember that the heresies regarding the Trinity (for example) came from two distinct fountains — from those who sought to deny it and from those who sought to explain it. A young man can easily fall into the great danger of giving his own inferences the same weight or authority as Scripture. In doing so, he creates a theological construct with more inference than truth. Our pride would rather eliminate mystery from God and boast of its accomplishment than acknowledge mystery and humbly worship the One whose judgments are unsearchable and whose ways are unfathomable.
I would rather boast in the failure of my own intellect and the sufficiency of my God than to lead myself astray trying to find explanations for all things. I recognize the weakness of my own intellect and happily submit to the power and sufficiency of my God. Christians can ask ever more difficult questions and expand their ideas until they reach the complexities that are not easily understood.
I am still a Christian because Christianity does not try to answer all my questions with tidy and simple explanations, closing me into a logically complete but spiritually contracted eternity (a la Chesterton’s Orthodoxy). Instead it allows me (again, I’m borrowing from Chesterton) to see two truths that seem contradictory and accept the two truths and the contradiction as well.