Tag Archives: Mystery

“Christ is the content of Christianity” by Herman Bavinck

“In Christianity, Christ occupies a very different place than Buddha, Zarathustra, and Muhammad do in their respective religions. Christ is not the teacher, not the founder, but the content of Christianity.”

–Herman Bavinck, Ed. John Bolt and trans. John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 3: 284.

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“The incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world” by Herman Bavinck

“The doctrine of Christ is not the starting point, but it certainly is the central point of the whole system of dogmatics. All other dogmas either prepare for it or are inferred from it.

In it, as the heart of dogmatics, pulses the whole of the religious-ethical life of Christianity. It is ‘the mystery of godliness’ (1 Tim. 3:16).

From this mystery all Christology has to proceed. If, however, Christ is the incarnate Word, then the incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world; then, too, it must have been prepared from before the ages and have its effects throughout eternity.”

–Herman Bavinck, Ed. John Bolt and trans. John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 3: 274.

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“Call upon the name of the eternal God” by Wilhelmus à Brakel

“Do not elevate yourself beyond the reach of your comprehension, and do not limit God by your human conceptions.

Acknowledge and believe God to be the One who dwells in incomprehensible eternity.

Lose yourself in this eternity.

Worship that which you cannot comprehend and with Abraham call upon the name of the eternal God (Genesis 21:33).”

–Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Volume 1, Ed. Joel Beeke, Trans. Bartel Elshout (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1700/1994), 1: 93.

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“To know God is to live” by Herman Bavinck

“Mystery is the lifeblood of theological reflection. From the start of its labors, dogmatic theology is shrouded in mystery. It stands before God the incomprehensible One.

This knowledge leads to adoration and worship: to know God is to live.

Knowing God is possible for us because God is personal, exalted above the earth and yet in fellowship with human beings on earth. Good theology puts this knowledge of God on public display.

It resists allowing theology to degenerate into rhetoric, a theology merely of words. It seeks the heart of the matter, knowing God in order to worship Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.

Such theology is never a dry and academic exercise. It is eminently practical and superlatively fruitful for life.

The knowledge of God in Christ, after all, is life itself (Psalm 89:16; Isaiah 11:9; Jeremiah 31:34; John 17:3).”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Abridged in One Volume, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 147-148.

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“The supreme mysterious stranger” by R.C. Sproul

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (Mark 4:39–40, NIV)

The life of Jesus was a blaze of miracles. He performed so many that it is easy for us to become jaded in the hearing of them. We can read this narrative and skip quickly over to the next page without being moved.

Yet we have here one of the most astonishing of all Jesus’ miracles. We have an event that made a special impression on the disciples. It was a miracle that was mind-boggling even to them.

Jesus controlled the fierce forces of nature by the sound of His voice. He didn’t say a prayer. He didn’t ask the Father to deliver them from the tempest. He dealt with the situation directly. He uttered a command, a divine imperative. Instantly nature obeyed.

The wind heard the voice of its Creator. The sea recognized the command of its Lord. Instantly the wind ceased. Not a zephyr could be felt in the air. The sea became like glass without the tiniest ripple.

Notice the reaction of the disciples. The sea was now calm but they were still agitated:

They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ (Mark 4:41, niv)

We see a strange pattern unfolding here. That the storm and raging sea frightened the disciples is not surprising. But once the danger passed and the sea was calm, it would seem that their fear would vanish as suddenly as the storm.

It didn’t happen that way. Now that the sea was calm, the fear of the disciples increased. How do we account for that?

It was the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, who once espoused the theory that men invent religion out of a fear of nature. Man feels helpless before an earthquake, a flood, or a ravaging disease. So, said Freud, men invent a God who has power over the earthquake, flood, and disease.

God is personal. We can talk to Him. We can try to bargain with Him. We can plead with Him to save us from the destructive forces of nature. We are not able to plead with earthquakes, negotiate with floods, or bargain with cancer. So, the theory goes, we invent God to help us deal with these scary things.

What is significant about this story in Scripture is that the disciples’ fear increased after the threat of the storm was removed. The storm made them afraid. Jesus’ action to still the tempest made them more afraid. In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they ever met in nature.

They were in the presence of the holy. We wonder what Freud would have said about that. Why would men invent a God whose holiness was more terrifying than the forces of nature that provoked them to invent a god in the first place?

We can understand men inventing an unholy god, a god who brought only comfort. But why a god more scary than the earthquake, flood, or disease? It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The words that the disciples spoke after Jesus calmed the sea are very revealing. They cried out, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ The question was, ‘What manner of man is this?’ They were asking a question of kind.

They were looking for a category to put Jesus in, a type that they were familiar with. If we can classify people into certain types, we know immediately how to deal with them. We respond one way to hostile people and another way to friendly people.

We react one way to intellectual types and another way to social types. The disciples could find no category adequate to capture the person of Jesus. He was beyond typecasting. He was sui generis—in a class by Himself.

The disciples had never met a man like this. He was unlike anyone they had ever encountered. He was one of a kind, a complete foreigner. They had met all different kinds of men before—tall men, short men, fat men, skinny men, smart men, and stupid men.

They had met Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, Samaritans, and fellow Jews. But they had never met a holy man, a man who could speak to winds and waves and have them obey Him.

That Jesus could sleep through the storm at sea was strange enough. But it was not unique. I think again of my fellow passenger on the airplane who dozed while I was gripped with panic.

It may be rare to meet people who can slumber through a crisis but it is not unprecedented. I was impressed with my friend on the plane.

But he did not awaken and yell out the window to the wind and make it stop at his command. If he had done that, I would have looked around for a parachute.

Jesus was different. He possessed an awesome otherness. He was the supreme mysterious stranger. He made people uncomfortable.”

–R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), 77–81.

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“The Maker of man became Man” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“The Word of the Father, by Whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us.

He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day set aside for His human birth.

In the bosom of His Father, He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.

The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at His mother’s breast;

that He, the Bread, might hunger;

that He, the Fountain, might thirst;

that He, the Light, might sleep;

that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey;

that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses;

that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge;

that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust;

that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips;

that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross;

that Courage might be weakened;

that Healer might be wounded;

that Life might die.

To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years.

He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.

Begotten by the Father, He was not made by the Father.

He was made Man in the mother whom He Himself had made, so that He might exist here for a while, sprung from her who could never and nowhere have existed except through His power.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Sermons 184-229: Sermons on Liturgical Seasons (Edmund Hill O.P. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), 191.1.

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“The mystery of grace” by Herman Bavinck

“Although knowledge is attainable in theology, this is not true of comprehension. There is substantial difference between ‘being acquainted with,’ ‘knowing,’ and ‘comprehending.’

True, these words are often used interchangeably. But there are demonstrable differences among them. ‘Being acquainted with’ pertains to a thing’s existence, the that; ‘knowing’ concerns a thing’s quality, the what; comprehending relates to its inner possibility, the how of a thing.

There are few things we comprehend; actually we comprehend only the things that are totally in our power, the things we can make or break. I comprehend a machine when I see how it is put together and how it works, and when there is nothing left in it I still think strange.

Comprehension excludes amazement and admiration. I comprehend or think I comprehend the things that are self-evident and perfectly natural. Often comprehension ceases to the degree a person digs deeper into a subject.

That which seemed self-evident proves to be absolutely extraordinary and amazing. The farther a science penetrates its object, the more it approaches mystery.

Even if on its journey it encountered no other object it would still always be faced with the mystery of being. Where comprehension ceases, however, there remains room for knowledge and wonder.

And so things stand in theology. Disclosed to us in revelation is ‘the mystery of our religion’: the mystery of God’s grace [1 Tim. 3:16].

We see it; it comes out to meet us as a reality in history and in our own life. But we do not fathom it.

In that sense Christian theology always has to do with mysteries that it knows and marvels at but does not comprehend and fathom.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, Ed. John Bolt, and Trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), Vol. 1: 619.

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