On the Journey: Encountering Mystery

Augustine’s Confessions I.2-4

For all things find in you their origin, their impulse, the center of their being.

What is God? Who is God? Where do we find God? Even Saint Augustine wrestles with these questions, questions that we continue to ask centuries later. Of course, if there was anyone in history that was capable of answering these questions, it was Saint Augustine! He would become one of the most prolific and lucid theologians of all time. So what does he say?

Detail of

Detail of “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Augustine tells us that God is merciful yet just. Never new, never old. Varied yet one. Never in need yet glad to gain. He is never covetous yet exacts a return for His gifts.

Still not helpful?

How about this: Augustine states it all in one short sentence, “For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you.”

From the very outset of his journey, Augustine unequivocally states that we cannot know Him. Sure, we may know some things about Him, but in the end, we are really quite clueless. You know what? That’s perfectly OK. That’s how it’s supposed to be. When we encounter Him, not only do we encounter Love, Mercy, and Hope, we also encounter Mystery.

We are always looking for answers. Especially in a society that is so focused on progress, science, technology, and the next “big thing,” not having the answers can be a difficult proposition to accept.

But to truly know God, we have to accept that we can never fully know Him in this life. Mystery.

In the search for God, when we encounter His mystery, we also encounter inexplicable beauty. Volumes have been written about this mystery and beauty, this Person for whom every human being seeks, but yet not all the books of the world would be able to contain Him (cf. John 21.25). We must learn to be at peace with this tension of not knowing and yet moving forward, of encountering the mystery while we allow the beauty of the Triune God penetrate our souls.

It’s OK to not know, to be a bit clueless, or a lot clueless. We all are on this journey together, from the most normal person to the brightest theologian.

The first step is embracing the mystery, taking a leap of faith. Let us open our hearts, allow ourselves to be drawn to Him. Let us encounter the beauty and mystery of God, and be at peace.

For reflection:

  1. What are some unanswered questions you have about God?
  2. Where do you encounter beauty and mystery?

Up next week: Confessions Book 1, Sections 5-6

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

Please note: this post was written prior to the attacks in Paris, which I spoke about earlier. I decided to delay it from when it was schedule because it didn’t seem appropriate to post the new installment first thing the morning following that horrific tragedy. Please keep the French people in your prayers. May peace, mercy, and justice triumph over all.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. St. Joan of Arc, pray for us.

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