John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

A Startling Absence of Mystery (Redux)

I am reposting some things from January -- things I was thinking about just after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka and other parts of Southeast Asia. Together we are working towards understanding what has happened, how it happened and how we are to live in light of such tragic events.

Clearly, there must be a distinction between God's causative will and God's permissive will. Not everything that happens was caused by God, though it was clearly allowed by God. This is a knotty problem, and people smarter than I have spent years trying to untangle it. Still, our faith seeks understanding -- so, we grope around for answers. These brief articles are my best attempt to think through this myself and help you do the same.

If you'd like to contribute financially to the recovery efforts, my suggestion is to do so through an organization like Samaritans Purse.

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A Startling Absence of Mystery

I guess my biggest problem with Enlightenment-era theology is the notion that everything has a rational explanation. I used to believe that, but I'm less certain now. The Bible itself affirms that for now we only know in part -- we can only see things dimly, like in a fogged-up mirror. None of us knows completely.

In fact, to use the words of Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel, "Religion begins with wonder and mystery." I fear that the modern church's attempt to dispel all the mystery from Christianity has robbed us of a way of dealing with evil. Whether it is "natural evil" like a tsunami or "personal evil" like genocide in the Sudan -- saying, "Well, it must be God's will" just doesn't cut it. That is an insufficient answer for a suffering world.

The world (and the events of the world) is a mystery, a question, not an answer. Perhaps even a rhetorical question at that. Any attempt to answer a rhetorical question is really an exercise in both redundance and futility. The mystery of a Creative Genius rather than the aloof concept of power -- the God of mystery rather than the Master Mind who stands apart -- in other words, the God of the Incarnation, the God who became the Suffering Servant, the God in relation to Whom the here-and-now world derives meaning -- this is the only idea adequate.

Our admission that we do not completely understand this mystery is more honest and compelling than outlining the abstract concept of a Grand Designer. Our willingness to emulate this God by entering into the suffering of others with a firm commitment and resolve to roll up our sleeves and respond to evil with goodness (with holiness, even) -- this is the righteous response. May it be ours.