"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 1:4).
"So you believe in a Triune God? One plus one plus one is three isn't it?"
The question came from a Mormon missionary taking the lead for his bicycling duo. The other young man listened quietly to our brief exchange.
“Well it is three, but one times one times one, what is that? Do you want to compare math tricks or talk about God?" I replied.
I think about that exchange quite often, and usually, in the weeks leading up to Trinity Sunday when I'm supposed to explain the trinity for my congregation. Someone recently told me this is called "Curate Sunday" in the Anglican tradition because they like to have the junior clergyman preach and try to explain the Trinity so that the rest of the clergy can make fun of him for eventually falling into a heretical ditch of one sort or another. The Trinity is one of those mysteries that cannot be explained. It must be believed. The essence of God defies reason. Through the revealed Word of God, the mystery can be revealed, but never fully comprehended. And a person really has to ask themselves, is a god that can be grasped by sinful flesh, a god fully understandable and explainable according to the finite logic and world we inhabit, is that a god one can trust and truly believe? Or does such a god actually demand that we dismiss him or her? Isn’t a god nothing more than our equal, a god to be manipulated and abused in the same manner we manipulate and abuse others around us for our own advantage?
Is a god fully understandable and explainable according to the finite logic and world we inhabit, is that a god one can trust and truly believe?
It's the trap we fall into when we try to make God comprehensible to us. A god who is comprehensible to us panders to our desires and soon becomes a god that has to entertain in order to command our attention or meet our most immediate needs in order to maintain our devotion. Worship of such a god ultimately leaves us empty because our felt needs are rarely anything more than distractions from the ultimate realities of sin, death and the devil that plague our existence.
So I think about this as I contemplate a chilling paragraph from Martin Lindstrom's book, Small Data. Lindstrom is a business consultant who analyses consumers on behalf of companies in order for them to better serve their customer base. He talks about the initial disaster of Euro Disney, and the large role religion and superstition played in turning the park around:
"After interviewing a selection of Euro Disney park-goers, I soon discovered that the 'missing magic' could, in fact, be distilled to an absence of transformation. I couldn't help but notice that this apparent flatness was coincident with a decrease in churchgoing across Europe. When I visited Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany, France and Italy, I came away convinced that what religion had historically given believers-faith, transformation—was no longer enough. In Europe, at least, parishioners made their way through church portals at around the same pace they strolled through a market or store. The fact of being in a sacred place no longer slowed people down, which meant that religion was no longer creating the necessary degree of embodied cognition, or space, for worship, or contemplation, or reverence. This insight—that a decline in churchgoing creates the need for other outlets to address the need for transformation—was what moved me to re-infuse superstition into the Euro Disney experience" (188-189).
As a theologian and a pastor, I would exchange his words of transformation and superstition with the word, mystery, and argue the Christian faith still has it by the bucket loads. Hermann Sasse, a theologian who has had more than a little influence on my ministry, expresses it this way:
"What is this mystery? It is for example, what the triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, has done and will do as the Creator, Reconciler and Sanctifier of the Word. 1 Timothy contains a perfect expression of this mystery as the focal point in one of the oldest hymns of the Church, where it is written, ‘Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’ (3:16) Yes, that is the mystery of all mysteries, the mystery of world history: God became flesh. That the eternal Word the eternal Father's eternal Son became flesh is truly a mystery, a mystery in the strict sense incomprehensible to reason" (Witness, 76).
This is a mystery that has occupied the greatest minds of the Western World, men such as Luther, Augustine and Aquinas, and yet also brings joy in the midst of hardship and suffering to the simplest of simpletons. God suffered this world of pain to secure eternal life for us sinners. The Son of Man conquered death, rose again and walked among us. The resurrected Lord began the eternal feast of heaven with his disciples in the upper room when he ate salted fish with them and showed off his battle scars.
Yet this mystery is always restored when pastors reclaim their place as stewards of the mysteries of God and no longer explain away Baptism, ignore the Lord’s Supper, or forget the forgiveness of sins.
This is the mystery the world mocks, but it is the mystery the world also needs. It is the mystery too often lost even in the church. Too often, the mystery of the church is either trampled on or simply replaced by the likes of Disney “magic” like the make-believe pixie dust of Tinkerbell. Yet this mystery is always restored when pastors reclaim their place as stewards of the mysteries of God and no longer explain away Baptism, ignore the Lord's Supper, or forget the forgiveness of sins. In these means of grace is mystery, not symbol nor admonition. Here is where we will find the mystery of God's love for the loveless; a love that answers anxiety and restores joy and meaning to life. In God’s good work and good Word, we find His mystery beyond all comprehension.