When I was a fairly new Christian, someone told me that the primary problem with Calvinism is that it puts God in a logical box. But the more I was exposed to the central teachings of the Reformation, the more I became convinced that in Calvinism the glory and majesty of God is anything but boxed up.
Rather, within the Reformed understanding, God’s majesty shines brightest, bursting all boundaries and exceeding all expectations. When a biblical understanding of God takes root in our hearts and minds, it inevitably and everywhere points to the infinitely majestic mystery of his character.
Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck writes, “Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics” (29). This is a perfectly apt metaphor. Any thinking about God, any theology, that does not have the lifeblood of mystery flowing through its veins will be, by definition, dead. Far from attempting to contain God in a logical box, true and lively thoughts of God will always, happily, and majestically, bump up against his mysterious incomprehensibility. It is that very incomprehensibility, the glorious and magnificent mystery of God’s character, that should motivate the praise and worship of every Christian.
There are three central truths attached to the majestic mystery of God’s character.
1. Mystery Is Infused with Knowledge
A biblical view of mystery is the polar opposite of mysticism. Mysticism focuses on experience; it demeans and depreciates knowledge. Mysticism at times has knocked on the door of Christianity, but it can never find its home there — because knowledge is central to biblical Christianity.
The essence of eternal life, Jesus says, is that we would know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3). God has spoken words, throughout history. In these last days, he has spoken through his Son (Hebrews 1:1–2). One of the reasons God speaks is so that his people might know what he says about himself and thus know him.
As Christians affirm and confess the glorious truths about God and his character, the light that shines forth is the incomprehensible mystery of God’s majesty. For this God is:
- infinite in being and perfection (Job 11:7–9; Job 26:14)
- a most pure spirit (John 4:24)
- invisible (1 Timothy 1:17)
- unchanging (James 1:17; Malachi 3:6)
- immense (1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23–24)
- eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17)
- incomprehensible (Psalm 145:3)
- almighty (Genesis 17:1; Revelation 4:8)
- most wise (Romans 16:27)
- most holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8)
- most free (Psalm 115:3)
- most absolute (Exodus 3:14)
- working all things according to the counsel of his own unchanging and righteous will (Ephesians 1:11)
So the biblical pattern is this: in affirming the majesty of the mystery of God’s character, we confess that we cannot comprehend what we must acknowledge.
2. Mystery Is the Intent of Our Knowledge
The structure of the book of Romans can help us with this second point. In the first eleven chapters, we see our true selves: naked, ashamed, and condemned before God.
Paul first establishes that all people are under sin (Romans 1:18–3:20). Our sin is focused in our rebellion against the clear revelation of God in creation (Romans 1:18–2:16). The righteousness of God (1:17) found in the Lord Jesus Christ (3:21–26), however, is alone able to bring about our own righteousness (chapters 4 and 5) and break the shackles of sin (chapter 6). Though we will continue to struggle with the sin that remains in us (chapter 7), there is no condemnation for those in Christ (8:1). Then Paul takes us into the invisible recesses of eternity so that we might see how God’s perfect plan had its origin in his eternal resolve to save a people for himself (chapters 8–11).
At the beginning of chapter 12, we come to that all-important word therefore. In other words, given all we have discussed in chapters 1–11, how should we then live? But first, a transition passage, an intriguing segue from Christian doctrine to Christian living, an irresistible outburst of doxological praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)
The deep and glorious truths Paul has labored to explain lead him to the praise and worship of our incomprehensible God. The intent of our doctrine is always to elicit praise to God. A biblical understanding of God’s truth always reaches out into the blinding light of God’s majesty and glory.
3. Mystery Initiates Christian Living
This final point, likewise, follows the structure of Romans. After Paul’s doxology at the end of chapter 11, and his therefore at the beginning of chapter twelve — signaling the sum of all that has come before — the apostle tells us to present ourselves as living sacrifices (12:1).
This sacrifice is focused in our refusal to conform to the world around us, and our resolve to be transformed. Our transformation comes through the renewal of our minds (12:2), which takes us back again to right thinking. So the unending circle of our Christian experience goes from precepts to praise to practice, and back to precepts again — all to the glory of God.
Yet if we neglect the praise of God’s glorious and majestic incomprehensibility — if we move too hastily from doctrine to practice, without pausing to marvel and worship — the circle will be broken, and the lifeblood of mystery will begin to drain from our orthodoxy.
A vibrant Christianity must include praise of God’s majestic mystery — a mystery infused with knowledge; a knowledge that sets its intentions on the praise of God’s glory; a praise that initiates our practice of holiness.
The majestic and incomprehensible mystery of God is therefore the center that holds our Christian lives together. It flows from biblical truth, and it leads to biblical transformation. So, says Calvin in his commentary on Romans,
Whenever then we enter on a discourse respecting the eternal counsels of God, let a bridle be always set on our thoughts and tongue, so that after having spoken soberly and within the limits of God’s word, our reasoning may at last end in admiration.