top of page

Tug of War: The Crucial Tension Between Knowledge & Mystery

I think we all can agree that knowledge is valuable. There’s a reason that the first quarter of our lives, maybe more, is dedicated to education and learning. There is intrinsic value in the knowledge we gain and also in the process of learning. A good portion of our education is learning how to learn. Once we acquire the ability to learn, the world is ours to explore.

I am a firm believer that all Christians are charged with the responsibility of constant learning – reaching for more and more of God. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Proverbs 18:15 says, “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” There are countless others... Regardless of if you are good at “school” or not, learning is not bound by the walls of an institution. In whatever capacity you can, reach. Stretch. Struggle. Wrestle. Reason. Explore. Discover. When believers reject the struggle of learning, the Church loses her voice. We cannot become comfortable in our faith – we must rest in its truth and then dig deeper.

As a passionate life-long student, and recently as a teacher, I have become rather comfortable in the world of academia. Knowledge is a constant checkpoint for me to evaluate my growth and contribution to the intellectual development of the world. I’ve learned how to learn from ancient thinkers, from books (academic and leisure), from a myriad of professors, from my peers, and from the world around me. I’m confident in my ability to learn whatever I desire. However, the more I dive into a world of knowledge, the more dangerous my own mind becomes to me.

Studying philosophy is rich, life-giving work. As philosophers, we make connections in the realm of the universe and beyond, and when we feel that connection snap into place, it feels good. Really good. To experience a thought or a concept in a plausible way feels powerful. You start to feel closer to your creator and closer to other people. The danger starts to set in when your brain doesn’t make a connection and you begin to think something is wrong. If your mind can’t compute it, even abstractly or philosophically, then it must not be right. There must be a hole in your belief-system that needs to be filled immediately. When we find those holes as philosophers and thinkers, we’re tempted to fill them with whatever we can scrape up, which is often incorrect. And if we don’t do that, then we dismiss the concept all together.

But there’s another option that is often difficult for educated people to reckon with…

We can (and must) surrender our search to the mystery of God. Here’s a philosophical thought for you – If we could understand every mystery of God, then we could ultimately mimic those mysteries and become Him. God is only God if He rests outside of His creation. That means He is outside of time, space, and our thought process. I’m not saying God isn’t a logical being – but that’s a very long, separate blog post. I’m suggesting that He maintains His existence outside of our ability to compute. He is a personal God who reveals himself to us, but never fully - we can't handle that. He is in large-part, a mystery to us, not only unknown, but unknowable.

As Christians, not even philosophers, we have to surrender to His mystery. If we don’t prioritize the value of the mystery, then we are essentially making claims on the same grounds as atheism. The claim is different, but the reasoning is the same – If we can’t solve it, then it isn’t real. The faith aspect of Christianity is what separates a believer from a non-believer. If we discard faith in one area of life, we discard faith all together…because He is God of all. Here’s an example that I’ve struggled with:

In the past (and sometimes still), I’ve had a difficult time working through the problem of pain and loss in the world. Essentially, I wanted to accept God’s grace, but didn’t have the faith to cope with the loss of people I love. I spent years and years studying the possible reasons for pain and loss – particularly the “theology” of suicide. The more I learned, the less I knew. The truth is, I was accepting God in my life, but rejecting the part of Him that I could not "reign in" with my own understanding. That rejection led me to believe that I was more merciful than He is, more loving, more compassionate, etc. All of this was a direct result of me refusing to trust in what I couldn’t see. The rejection of His mystery unraveled my entire faith…

Eventually, my options were 1. Give up faith in a good God because clearly I don’t see it, or 2. Trust that He is good even when I don’t understand. My entire religion hung in the balance. That’s when I stopped and re-evaluated. There’s no way I could be more merciful, more loving, even more heartbroken, than God in light of all this loss. That didn’t line up with what I knew to be true, even in light of what I couldn’t know. In order to remain a Christian, I had to surrender my search for answers to God’s mystery.

If we restrict our faith to the power of limited human minds, then we aren't following an all-powerful God, but instead we’re following our own intellect - a limited idol. If we reject the mystery of our faith, we reject the very nature of God. He is too big for us to grasp. And as frustrating as that is, what a relief…

The purpose of knowledge is to see the truth; the purpose of God’s mystery is to trust the truth. Faith grows in between the tension of the two. God created us to long for Him as He longs for us – and so we should seek Him furiously in knowledge. But when our eyes cannot see, the truth is still the truth. He paints our limits on the canvas of His mystery so that we can discover ourselves in Him. “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”(1) The depth of His mystery calls out to the depth of our knowledge of Him in order that we may be consumed; covered from heart to head in His love. It is a beautiful call-and-response directly from the heart of the Father. How breathtaking to be called upon...

I encourage my fellow believers to believe. Call out with your unbelief and respond to the call with urgency, seeking knowledge of Him while also finding solace in His mystery - the pieces of Him that will remain unknown for the sake of His everlasting glory.

  1. Psalm 42:7, ESV.

bottom of page