God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Westminster Confession, Ch 2.1
(picture from wikipedia)
You ever gone on a search for something spending countless minutes or hours on the hunt only to take a break, breathe deeply, and notice what you’ve been looking for right under your nose?
This happened to me recently. Only, I was not searching for an item as much an answer.
I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but I’ll mention it again here. My parents died when I was in my early-to-mid teens. My father died of a heart attack during spring break of my 7th grade year. He was forty-eight. My mother died the following year after a long, third fight with cancer. She, too, was forty-eight. I dealt with their deaths, continued on with life, and believed I was beyond it. I was wrong. Some wounds run deeper than you think.
After years of marriage and having two children, I’ve missed them more than I thought I would. I have often longed to be able to call my dad for advice on parenting, finances, jobs, and most important, my faith. I’ve longed for my mother to listen, give advice, and just laugh as she did. I’ve wanted them both to sing again, and maybe me even play in their band. My children would have loved them. In short, their absence is just as real almost sixteen years later as it was when they died.
And, for some reason only recently have I really begun to get theologically flustered by the idea our sovereign, loving God would design their deaths. Because of some misunderstandings I had in my own reformed presbyterian tradition, I began looking for better answers out there, answers that were more palpable, more mysterious. I didn’t want another person to try and explain Job to me, but to ponder with me the reality of pain. I searched high and low (as in High and Low churches). I read various authors’ perspectives on “Theology Proper”, or the right view of God. Ironically, sitting under my nose the entire time was an answer I could fully appreciate. And, it was in my own traditions Confession.
The Reformed Presbyterian world to which I belong adheres to the Westminster Confession as the most comprehensive summary of the Christian faith. It differs from other confessions at various points, none of which are gospel essentials. Nonetheless, it is distinct and consistent. Well, even though I went to a confessionally reformed seminary and became familiar with the confession, it had been a good while since I read it with an open mind, not a mind closed already to its’ words. When I read it again I found the Confession saying what I had already come to believe. I found the Confession confessing mystery.
Oh, how I love mystery. How I love the truth that we don’t know everything, and that is not only “okay” but a good thing. I love being able to answer questions be honestly saying, “I don’t know that answer, but I do know God is good.” When I was fresh out of seminary I wanted to answer every question asked. If you could as my seniors, I did. I was proud of my logically consistent answers, and my biblically saturated language. I wasn’t very loving. Nor did I allow for mystery. Everything had to be explained. Yes, I mean everything. How foolish.
The Lord humbled me. Through conversations and various experiences, I was brought to the end of my self-sufficient self. I hurt not for knowledge, but for love, truth, and mercy. My self image crumbled as my world changed and I didn’t know how to explain it. I learned I needed help. I needed advice. I needed someone who understood. I needed dad.
I found Him afresh when I found mystery. When I say “mystery” I simply mean that I let God be God. I didn’t need explanations anymore. I needed Him. I needed his presence in the valley of shadow. I needed his rod and staff as I erred. I needed His table in the presence of my enemies. My mind needed to slow down and my heart needed to beat a little faster. All my learning came to bow knee to a few essential ideas:
God is good.
God is sovereign. This world is not out of control.
God is not the cause of evil (or of my parent’s deaths).
While God is sovereign, I am responsible.
How all those work together, I don’t know. But I can take joy in the fact that God does. All that I see around me operates according to the good graces of our good God. And, while I was out running around trying to find answers, on my shelf was a little book holding the answer.