"We shouldn't put God in a box with our doctrine."
"God is bigger than our theology."
"God is not contained by the Bible."
"Stop trying to domesticate God and put him in a box."
Any of these pithy sayings sound familiar? Some of you might be rolling your eyes. Some might be nodding in agreement. I'll be honest. I've heard variations of these sayings many times throughout my theological education. Sometimes when overhearing conversations... sometimes directed at me!
It's difficult to address sayings like this is a simplistic way. There's obviously truth to the sayings. God has not revealed every aspect of himself to us. We often must be content with mystery. If we knew everything about God, we would be God! What concerns me is what I find to be the consistent context in which I hear these sayings.
I remember having a conversation with a fellow student at Nyack College when I was working on my undergrad. He said something along the lines of, "When we try to derive the truth of God from scripture, we are trying to filter God through a book. When we preach from the Bible, we have a double filter, namely a book and a human interpretation of that book. I don't think we should limit God like that." Again does this sound familiar?
Obviously for my orthodox Christian friends, a statement like this goes way too far... at least if you hold to the Christian belief that scripture is given to us by God and is fully inspired. At the same time, I fear that this thinking is often behind the more common sayings I've already mentioned... sayings that, yes, even my fellow Christians use all too often (at least in my judgment). Even in conversations about such things as the nature of the trinity, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, or the sufficiency of grace, doctrines that have been considered foundational for centuries, I hear fellow Christians jump to the category of mystery where scripture has clearly revealed doctrinal truth to us.
Here's a thought, before you ask yourself whether you think you're brilliant enough to comprehend the vast mysteries of God, ask if your God is big enough to enter into creation and reveal himself in terms that even idiots like us can understand.
I think that all too often we give into the notion that scripture was tainted by human frailty. If we do not communicate this notion in creed, then we often do so in practice. We then, in turn, say that we are far too limited in our perceptions to comprehend a consistent doctrine of God. While this feels quite pious and humble, it completely ignores the possibility that God is a living speaking person who desires to be known intimately... through both intellectual knowledge and the affections of the heart.
The irony of all this is that, in our false humility, we neglect a close study of God through scripture and begin forming an idea of God in our own likeness... one not at all derived from what he has himself revealed. In trying to avoid putting God in a box, we have boxed him into the incredibly limiting space of our individual minds.
God help us.
There are always extremes. There are those who speculate far beyond what God has revealed as well as those who neglect what he has revealed, but I fear that the former is not the prevalent problem in our culture today. We must search our own hearts to see where we fall in this spectrum.
I hope each of us will.