It takes only a casual read to recognize that the God of the Bible defies explanation—and often, expectation. Throughout this month's issue, we've explored God's justice and his mercy; the inexplicable reality of Christ's resurrection, and the essential faith it takes to respond to holy nudges we might not understand.
My own relationship with God's mystery is complicated. On one hand, I'm frustrated that I lack faith to believe that God holds all things together, even when it seems they are falling apart. On the other, I yearn for the unexpected, for wonder, even for surprises. And God likes the wonder in us. He calls us to become like "little children," and little children live in the mystery of the unknowing most of the time!
So how can we embrace wonder in the midst of the frustration of our finite understanding? Here are four challenges to take this practice from your head to your heart.
Challenge #1: Cultivate an awareness of God's mystery
Frederica Mathewes-Green says "awareness of God's mystery should silence us." She goes on to explain that silence helps us cultivate an awareness of God's presence, and that it requires practice. Consider taking a week of focused quiet time. Be silent daily before God for 5, 10, or 30 minutes. Take nothing with you and practice experiencing his presence alone.
At first, you may find it difficult to truly quiet yourself. But keep at it! Ask a friend to take the same challenge (to keep you both accountable) and then share your reflections together after the week has passed.
Challenge #2: Explore the mystery of Scripture
Amy Julia Becker discusses the mystery of the resurrection, a reality not found anywhere in the created world. John Throop discusses the idea that God holds both justice and mercy in his hands. Ponder your answers to these questions:
• How would you define the words justice and mercy if you weren't talking about the character of God?
• How would those definitions change (or stay the same) when you consider it as a descriptor for God?
• What are some things that exist in tension with each other? Consider Becker's couplets: "sin and salvation, brokenness and healing, rupture and forgiveness, death and resurrection."
• In what ways has your life been a mosaic of these words? What in your life currently speaks to this same tension?
Challenge #3: Respond to the nudge of obedience
Ginger Kolbaba challenges us to consider the nudges of God: "God gives us the opportunity to work, without us fully knowing the scope or significance of our job." Give yourself over to God's work. As you go about your day (at your work, with your neighbors, as you enter a coffee shop), incline your inner ear to listen for God's nudge. Continue to keep that "offer" to God in the front of your awareness until you feel that impulse to act. While you may be baffled by what you feel "nudged" to do, you'll experience the presence of God in the midst of it!
Challenge #4: Practice imagination
Wonder is defined as "a feeling of surprise mixed with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable." Wonder is a good posture to describe how we can approach God. Here are some ways:
Take a wonder walk. As you walk through your neighborhood, praise God for the many beautiful things you don't understand. You may notice cloud formations, wildflowers, budding trees, or even a squirrel's ability to run up a tree! As you pray, ask God to open you to the greatness of his creation.
Pray in pictures. When you pray for others, ask God to give you pictures to understand God or others better. I once had a woman share with me that she imagined a congregation of believers as "having their umbrellas up, blocking the shower of God's grace." That's descriptive! Tapping into our imaginations can give us new ways to understand and live in the tension of God's mystery.
Challenge assumptions. Since God is the creator of all, everything he has created has his fingerprints within it. Scripture uses trees, seasons, vines, shepherds, banquets, and sheep (to name a few) to help us understand our relationship with God. Consider the normal aspects of your life. How might those ordinary objects or experiences be metaphors for God? Find five unexpected ways to understand God's character or mystery in your daily life.