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0830823328Continuing to blog through this book: Walking Away from Faith (Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief) by Ruth Tucker. InterVarsity Press, 2002.   * part 1, part 2

Can God be known? Christianity has a unique place among the world religions, as it teaches that God is both immanent and transcendent. The transcendent God came near in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Evangelicalism has done a good job at emphasizing the immanent or knowable aspect of God, yet we seem to have done this at the expense of God’s transcendence. We’ve too far reduced the distance between creature and Creator. In our lopsided emphasis on having “a relationship” with Him, we’ve forgotten that God is also majestic and far above us.

Tucker sees this as part of the problem when we consider the issue of faith and doubt. People who struggle with doubts often experience an absence of God’s presence. God seems distant. They are not hiding from God, because they have no sense of God searching for them. Evangelicalism leaves little room for this type of experience. The unknowability or hiddenness of God is seldom discussed or raised in evangelical circles. How could it be? It would be drowned out by all the talk of our “relationship with Him” and God “speaking to us”!

The book states that the hiddenness of God “should not be exaggerated, but the known and unknown dimensions of God ought to be viewed in one sense as complementary and in another sense as paradox.”  Tucker states that in Reformed circles this paradox is more readily accepted, and I agree. I lean towards Reformed theology myself and this is one reason why. I appreciate how the majesty and sovereignty of God are emphasized, which helps bring needed balance to the equation.

In addition, we are still living in a fallen world awaiting the final redemption. This is a misty age, or as Paul puts it “we see through a glass darkly.”  It makes sense that God may sometimes seem distant. We can see this complaint throughout the Scriptures – where we read of God hiding his countenance or not stretching out his arm. Even Jesus cried out “why hast thou forsaken me.”

Tucker also uses the word “mystery” in regards to the unknowability of God. The concept of “God as mystery” makes some evangelicals nervous for various reasons. Yet it only seems natural that mystery will be part of the equation. After all…God is God, and we are not. If we could understand everything about God and God’s ways – I don’t think God would be much of a God. Tucker states:

“Recognizing and appreciating God as mystery – as opposed to God as defined facts and proofs – can be an important step in coming to terms with doubt and unbelief …. As I contemplate the stories of so many who have walked away from faith, it occurs to me that they have walked away not so much from God, but rather from a mistaken perception of God. Recently I was jolted in my pew as I listened to a prayer that concluded the children’s message…the pastor prayed “Hi God. It’s me again.” This kind of conversational familiarity, which is often heard in evangelical churches, is, it seems to me, less than helpful in our comprehension of God… If God is greeted as we would greet a friend on the phone, we may easily wonder if there is anyone on the other end of the line. Many of those who lose their faith are walking away from a “chatty daddy”, not the Ultimate One who is truly God.”

Don’t misunderstand Tucker. She is an evangelical and believes that God can be known and that God stepped into history in the person of Jesus Christ. But she is concerned with the imbalance she perceives in the evangelical approach to God.

Nor is Tucker presenting the mysterious aspect of God as the “easy answer” for those struggling with doubts. Referring to the mysteries of God can be a way to evade the hard questions or dilemmas of faith. Evasion of the tough issues does not help the doubter!  Yet, I agree with Tucker that coming to terms with mystery or paradox is a key element in retaining faith despite doubts. Part 4: here.

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