“Friendship is the nature of God. The Christian concept of god as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. This perspective discloses the beautiful fulfillment of our immortal longing in the words of Jesus, who said, Behold, I call you friends. Jesus, as the son of God, is the first Other in the universe; he is the prism of all difference. He is the secret anam cara of every individual. In friendship with him, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity. In the embrace of this eternal friendship, we dare to be free.”
—John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
It would be an unfortunate oversight not to notice the similarities between the language of classical trinitarian theology and sex. Early Christian theologians formed mind-bending concepts such as perichoresis to affirm the paradox of God’s three-in-one-ness. Perichoresis means that the members of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—coinhere, interpenetrate, commune, and mutually-indwell within each other in perfect loving friendship. This is a vision of Reality as a Comm-unity of Active Love. Now it would be a mistake to imagine that this means God is constantly having sex within God as we understand human sex. It is more the reverse, actually: human sex, at its best, gives us a small window through which we can imperfectly perceive something of the Love and Life of God. Life-giving sex is a brush with the Divine. Indeed, the bodily act of sex likewise gives an image of what all loving relationships involve at deeper levels: a profound oneness of hearts and souls.
“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”
Balanced Christian theology is a mix of both details and mystery. It exists in the tension between the extremes of overly-detailed dogmatism and overly-obscure mysticism.
The object—who is really the supreme Subject—of Christian theology is the self-revealing God. It is the suffering-God who has compassionately involved himself in our painful, divisive human affairs. It is the incarnate-God who has experienced the full weight of our human condition in the man, Jesus of Nazareth. Christian theological inquiry, then, is a reaction to the self-disclosing, incarnational action of the Divine. So it cannot be entirely apophatic, nor entirely mysterious. For if it is a reaction to the activity of a God who has made himself knowable through a particular person in a particular place in a particular time, it must have details. Details about the God-man who lived and breathed and bled in history; details about who he is, why he acted, and what he accomplished; details about our purpose and place in the ensuing drama of humanity. Because it is not pure meta-physical speculation, it must have details.
And yet, in Jeremy Taylor’s words, ‘a religion without mystery must be a religion without God.’ I wholeheartedly agree: if Christian theology is entirely devoid mystery, then God has been significantly—if not entirely—squeezed out of it. The object of Christian theology is the supreme Subject; the transcendent Creator and Sustainer of all things, visible and invisible. So theology, more than any other form of inquiry, must be done with humility. This does not mean that theological knowledge has to be utterly obscured beyond having any recognizable meaning, especially if it’s focus is the self-revealing incarnate-God. But it does mean that such knowledge should be learned, embraced, and shared with a deep reverence for mystery.
Existing between full-blown dogmatism and full-blown mysticism is not easy. It is much easier to become only addicted to details or only addicted to mystery. But healthy Christian theology needs both; an uncomfortable thing for know-it-all dogmatists and obscure-it-all mystics.
For the record, the bible is not a flat moral manual that we can flip open to any random page for quick-and-dirty ethical cues. It is a library packed with poetry, history, philosophy, letters, biographies, and more, that cumulatively chronicle a dynamic story. Its story is filled with profound tensions between love and hate, promise and betrayal, justice and grace, revenge and forgiveness, despair and hope, war and peace, and good and evil. Even more, its unfolding narrative tells of the dark powers of death and disintegration clashing with the life-giving, reconciling power of pure love. Hardly light reading, its narrative brims with brutal honesty and disturbing tragedies, plenty of deeply flawed leading characters, and an uncommon God’s relentless pursuit of his beloved screw-ups that climaxes in a scandalous plot-twist of unexpected triumph. It’s enough to get caught up in!