Christian leaders who have the opportunity to address issues publicly should be careful to give accurate explanations for God. Common inquiries range from why evil exists to cultural changes to how God judges matters. Sometimes, however, many in our faith community offer responses that only engender more questions or those to which we default with basic salvation answers—“The scriptures say that if you do not confess Jesus as your Savior, then hell will be your eternal home.” But these responses are wooden and difficult for the un-churched.
I don’t dispute anything the scriptures explain. I do believe, however, that formulated answers to really tough questions may create unnecessary problems for Christians rather than solve them. Besides, being formulaic doesn’t truly represent a deep, coherent theology or the heart of a loving and wise God.
As a seminary student I always felt that theology is rooted in 1) the truth about God as he has revealed to us, 2) faith in God and his character, and 3) a healthy acknowledgement of mystery. Most believers score well on the first two. But our faith in God rests at a deeper level when we can confess that many times we simply don’t understand him and all the things he says and does.
I believe the Bible is God’s revealed Word to humankind, true in its message and perfect in its intent. Yet I also believe that some of that record can be difficult to understand. I acknowledge that God and his ways, other than what has been explained in Christian theology, are incredibly shrouded in mystery.
Mystery fills in all the space surrounding the hard questions of life that century after century have stood as stalwart as when they first troubled the minds of humans. But we allow ourselves to get in trouble when we let our theology nail God down to an exact science.
I must learn to answer many questions outsiders ask with God’s heart. I know what the Bible says and often they do, too. But God is more than dogma and easy answers. He is feeling and caring and loving; sometimes we fail at presenting this side of God. I feel that if the world wants real answers from the Church, we would do well to risk explaining truth along with God’s heart.
For instance, I don’t fully know how God deals with people for whom it isn’t apparent they believed on him before dying, especially people who never knew of Jesus. These are things none of us understand. And, yes, I know that not believing on Jesus as Lord is unforgivable. But what about those who walked uprightly by the light of their conscience and those implications Paul alludes to in Romans 2:11-16? I just don’t know, but I can be honest about the mystery of it all.
So we all struggle with God’s revelation and to interpret scripture in order to know how God thinks about a matter—and I must say that for most things the truth is not hard to figure out. But I deplore those who have all the answers. They often do more damage than good.
What our theology has given us, let us learn well. Let us also do well to communicate it with grace, tact, and the honesty to say “I don’t know.”