Majesty Replaced By Mystery

Recently, because I wanted to look up something about God’s character, I pulled out my copy of The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, then decided it was time to re-read that slim volume again. The preface alone was arresting.

Speak to the condition of the hearer, Tozer quotes. The “message must be not only timeless but timely.” He then launches in on the rationale for his book — Christians have a low view of God. (If he thought this back in 1961 when he wrote the book, imagine what he would think today!)

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking…

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (pp 6-7)

Because Tozer started with the remark about the timeliness of the message, I had to ask, is this a timely message for the postmodern generation? What I hear and read most often proclaims God’s mystery, not His majesty. In fact, a quick check using Google search revealed seven times more blog articles discussing God and mystery than God and majesty.

Of course, if those using the term “mystery” actually mean “transcendence” then they’re on the right track. But too often the meaning is, “we cannot know”; God is hidden from us — the great Question Mark, about which we cannot know and should not claim to know.

Except, all throughout Scripture, God declares who He is. Take Exodus 29:46 for example:

They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.

Or how about Hosea 6:3:

So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.

Then there is Hebrews 8:11 quoting from Jeremiah:

AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.

Christ, the mediator between God and Man has made this possible.

For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossian 2:9)

Then we have Jesus’s own statement:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)

A mystery, God is not, at least for those who know Jesus Christ.

This contradicts our postmodern culture so the problem now seems to be that we no longer grasp the majesty of God because we no longer believe it is possible to do so. Who could grasp what is shrouded in mystery?

What a subversive lie Satan has introduced. (He’s good at that, being the father of lies). First it undermines the authority of the Bible. If we can’t know because God is mystery, then whoever or whatever claims knowledge of God is suspect. No longer is the believer to give definitive answers, and the one who seeks and keeps seeking is considered wise.

Except this position contradicts Jesus Himself.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

Throughout the Bible, God promises Himself to those who seek Him:

  • But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
  • the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chron. 15:2b)
  • You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)
  • Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8a)

A. W. Tozer took it upon himself to write The Knowledge of the Holy as his timely, timeless message — a way of calling Christians back to an elevated view of God.

It seems to me we have a different timely, timeless message to convey first — that God revealed Himself precisely because He wants to be known. Would Jesus have died otherwise? Would God have sent His Holy Spirit if He didn’t plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him?

Published in: on March 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. It’s also worth noting that while the New Testament (particularly Paul) refers to “mysteries” all over, it’s never something that (as the Gnostics claimed) only “the inner circle” could know, or (as our culture would have us believe) can’t be known, but rather something that had been hidden but was now being proclaimed. For example: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6). This is something that was foreshadowed in the words of the prophets, but until the coming of the Christ was kept hidden—and is now, after his coming, proclaimed openly.

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  2. Thanks!

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  3. Hmm. when I hit the little facebook like button, it apparently doesn’t show on my facebook page that I like this.

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  4. Hmm, that’s odd, Sally. Your profile doesn’t show up next to Jonathan’s either. I don’t know if the like button posts to Facebook or not, but the FB button does. Thanks for thinking about sharing this article anyway. 😉

    Becky

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  5. Jonathan, great comment! I’ll highlight this part, though all of it is spot on:

    it’s never something that (as the Gnostics claimed) only “the inner circle” could know, or (as our culture would have us believe) can’t be known, but rather something that had been hidden but was now being proclaimed.

    Paul’s statement to the Colossians illustrates what you said perfectly:

    Of this church, I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God, bestowed on me for your benefit so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God; that is, the mystery which was hidden from past ages and generations but has now been manifested to his saints (1:25-26 — emphasis mine).

    Peter also verifies what you said about the foreshadowing of what was to come:

    As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit … (1 Peter 1:10-12a — emphasis mine)

    No question — according to Scripture, what was once hidden no longer is. Christ, the Word made flesh, and Scripture, the Spirit-breathed Word, are the final pieces of God’s self-revelation.

    Becky

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  6. Strangely enough, I’ve just begun re-reading The Knowledge of the Holy also–it’s well worth revisiting. The clear proclamation it gives regarding the nature of God is one desperately needed in our culture. Even my own heart needs the reminder from time to time.

    While I agree that God has gone to great lengths to reveal truth about Himself and His nature in His word, I don’t think it precludes the element of mystery. It’s a mystery in the sense there are things about Him we can’t fully understand with our natural minds. It’s when the idea of God as a mystery receives undue emphasis and people begin to suggest that we can’t know the truth about God–truth that He has clearly proclaimed–that we run into problems. Just my two cents.

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  7. See, Sarah, I knew we were of like mind. 😉

    I think it’s interesting that the chapter following Tozer’s plea for a higher view of God is on His incomprehensibility.

    Because many associated with movements like the “emerging church” use the word “mystery” to mean “we cannot know,” I choose to use the term “transcendence” to reflect God’s beyondness that Tozer calls incomprehensibility.

    In my way of thinking “mystery” has a lingering bit of “knowable” connected to it — if we just do the right things or if we’re in the secret club that gives us insights which no one else has. Transcendence carries the idea of “out of range.” No amount of anything will bring it in range — in this case, God. That seems to fit with His statement that His ways and thoughts are not ours, that they are as far beyond us as the heavens are above the earth.

    At any rate, I want to be clear that what Paul called the mystery of Christ is completely different than what those who believe God is unknowable mean by the term. It would be interesting to go through all those “God+mystery” blog posts Google found to see which were talking about transcendence and which about “unknowable.”

    Becky

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