Why does God, who truly wants to be known,
seem so incomprehensible?
The Mystery of God— Theology for Knowing the Unknowable
Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall
Reviewed by Chris Sicks
When I was an atheist, I thought the reason God was unknowable was because he didn’t exist. Today I not only believe he exists—I preach, teach, and write about him. Still, much about God remains mysterious, even unknowable.
Why does God, who truly wants to be known, seem so incomprehensible?
That question is at the heart of The Mystery of God— Theology for Knowing the Unknowable by Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall. The book’s aim is to “investigate the notion of divine mystery…in a way that is explicitly theological.”
To do this, Boyer and Hall examine the meaning and history of mystery before exploring how it impacts the Christian life. I found those later chapters on salvation and prayer to be especially helpful. As the authors put it: “Christianity is never merely a set of truth claims about God and the world; it is also a life to be lived in the presence of God.” What is the point of theology if it doesn’t lead us toward the Lord?
The Mystery of God is thorough and detailed without being unapproachable. Boyer and Hall are seminary professors, and the book was published by Baker Academic. So, not surprisingly, the book contains plenty of footnotes, quotes from patristic sources, and Scripture references. Boyer and Hall do not rush to resolve thorny problems and take seriously the viewpoints of Catholics and Protestants, Arminians and Calvinists, old dead guys and younger living ones.
This ecumenical approach is particularly helpful in the chapter on salvation. It is a true mystery how God can be sovereign and in control of all things even as his people have complete free will. Arminians and Calvinists untie this knot quite differently, yet both depend upon mystery to make their arguments, and each claims to have the definitive answer.
Boyer and Hall propose a third way that affirms what Scripture teaches about both the sovereignty of God and the free will of human beings. They argue that mystery is the key: “All of these things, all of the rock-bottom truths of the Christian gospel, we do know, and we can rely on them absolutely, even when we cannot see how they all fit together.”
Such humility is what makes The Mystery of God attractive, and biblical. After exploring a question as thoroughly as Boyer and Hall have, many would be tempted to declare they have arrived at “the answer.” Instead, the authors recognize and even celebrate the inescapable role of mystery in the life of God’s people.
The mysterious nature of God can cause us to turn away in disbelief, as I once I did. Or it can draw us deeper into worship. The Mystery of God helped me do the latter, which apparently was the authors’ goal:
“We hope to show that if God is the incomprehensible mystery that Christianity has always declared, then…Christians can enter into reflection on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without nervous jokes about incoherence, and with an abiding doxological wonder instead.”
Chris Sicks is the author of Tangible—Making God Known Through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth (NavPress—August, 2013) and Pastor of Mercy at Alexandria Presbyterian Church in Virginia.