Sunday, October 7, 2012

Beyond Me

"Poets don’t go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom... Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion... To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything is a strain. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” --G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
I'm definitely of the latter type: the logician whose head splits, um, daily. I get lost in things like God's holiness (Is 6.1-7), the preeminence of Christ (Heb 1.1-9), substitutionary atonement (Col 2.13-15) glory in wrath (Rom 9.22-23) and divine emotion (Gen 6.6 etc) every single day. So I fix my eyes on the horizon of my understanding and determine to get there, not just before I die, but before I go to sleep tonight; before I close my Bible... And thus I attempt to make the infinite finite.

As you might imagine, I fail often. More than often. I find comfort, however, as I struggle with such complex paradoxes (or as Packer calls them: antimonies) knowing that I'm in good company! (*1) John Piper writes, in reference to the above quote, "Paradox is woven into the nature of the universe, and... resisting it drives a person mad."

I also see the logical necessity for God to be beyond comprehension. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis said, "If any message from the core of reality was ever to reach us, we should expect to find in it that unexpectedness, that willful, dramatic anfractuosity which we find in the Christian faith. It has the Master touch -- the rough, male-taste of reality, not made by us, or indeed, for us, but hitting us in the face.” (*2)

I like Chesterton's contrast of poets and chess-players. It hangs in my consciousness as a warning sign along a road to certain doom. I have a similar quote of caution scribbled in the back of my Bible, set there for the same purpose: "God's ineffable holiness can only be acknowledged by the mind to be beyond the scope of the mind." (*3) That's a paraphrase from Abraham Heschel's book, "God in Search of Man." The whole quotation goes:
"The essence of [reality] is ineffable and thus incompatible with the human mind, and it is precisely this incompatibility that is the source of all creative thinking in art, religion, and moral living. We may, therefore, suggest that just as the discovery of reality's compatibility with the human mind is the root of science, so the discovery of the world's incompatibility with the human mind is the root of artistic and religious insight. It is the realm of the ineffable, where the mystery is within reach of all thoughts, in which the ultimate problems of religion are born.

By the ineffable we do not mean the unknown as such; things unknown today maybe known a thousand years from now. By the ineffable we mean that aspect of reality which by its very nature lies beyond our comprehension, and it is acknowledged by the mind to be beyond the scope of the mind."
I think sometimes I just need to let the Mystery drive me to the foot of the cross. I must remind myself that I need a God who is higher than I am in every scope possible. How else could I throw myself onto His sovereignty and trust Him completely? If Heschel is right that God's incompatibility with our minds is the root of artistic expression, maybe I just need to loosen my grip on my need for answers so I can rejoice in my First Love again (Hosea 2.14-15).

If you're similar to me in this, if you're of the chess-player persuasion, please take this as an encouragement to let the infinite remain infinite, not just for the sake of our sanity, but for the sake of our hearts. Every time you reach that ledge where you look off over the great cliff of incomprehensibility, instead of jumping head-long like we're prone to, just stay your ground and worship His vastness. Marvel at His holiness. Stand in awe of His great "other-than-ness," and thank Him for welcoming us into His throne room to know Him for all eternity.


From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever! Let me take shelter under the shadow of Your wings! Thank you for raising me up from the mire, from the pit of destruction. You put a new song in my mouth and I will use my lips to praise you all the days of my life.



1 - One of my favorite bands, Shane and Shane, sings the song I Miss You, which includes the line, "It breaks my heart to know You in part, and not be where You are." Sigh. So very true to me.

1 - Interestingly, when I first read this quote, several years ago, my initial response was not to wrestle with the implications of an ineffable God, my response was poetry.

2 - I was reminded of this quote just last Sunday during an outstanding sermon by Pastor Dave Lomas on the Holiness of God.