It’s easy enough to say those words: Enter into a mystery.
But it’s a little bit harder to understand what it means to actually do that. The first step is to recognize that mysery is not something to be dispatched. Mystery is not a vermin that ought to be exterminated. It’s easy to think it is. Because mysery has this much in common with the cock roaches: When you turn the light on, mystery scatters toward the shadow, it runs for the darkest places.
As much as it is a thing, mystery is also a direction. It’s an orientation. Which direction?
Well, it’s not really up.
Another tendency that is not new is to build things upward. There’s a literal way in which we build things upward. And there’s also a metaphorical way in which we do.
I am so very thankful that people have become very good at metaphorically building things upwards. Science works that way. It begins with a foundation, the premises, and it builds from them. Eventually, what was built up gets built upon, it acts as the new foundation. It goes up and up and up.
Though some terrible things have resulted from science it would be pretty goofy for me to sit here in this air-conditioned room, typing away on my computer, nibbling my micro-waved, processed food, and complain about science.
Building upwards metaphorically isn’t a bad thing. And building up literally isn’t a bad thing either. I live on the second floor of a building. Multi-floor buildings allow us to use space efficiently. Skyscrapers are miracles of engineering.
There is nothing bad in going up. It’s just not the direction we head in, if we wish to find mystery.
This can all be a little confusing. So often, we think of God dwelling in the heavens above us. Though it might make a little sense to take this literally, and to think of God as above us, this is still the wrong way to approach him.
Consider the following:
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel [c] —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
So, what’s going on here?
Well, there was this new development in engineering. Just as we might think a certain amount of memory in our computer, or a new gadget for a cell-phone is cutting edge technology, there was a time that using brick and tar was a new and exciting idea.
The passage doesn’t tell us who got this idea or how they got it. In some sense, though, it was about metaphorically building upwards. All science is.
In this case, metaphorically building upwards permitted them to quite literally build upwards. It allowed them to make a tower taller than any that had ever been made before.
There is something subtle—and funny—that happens next. The men are quite proud of themselves. A whole lot of self-congratulations is going on. For the first time in human history, these guys feel like they are going to be able to visit God.
And yet, with out fanfare or explanation, as if he simply snapped his fingers and was there, God crosses the divide. God is simply and suddenly there.
I have this picture in my brain. A bunch of Gilligans-island style cast aways, slaving away to turn cocunt trees into a boat. They work for years and years on a device that will get them out to the ocean. Finally, they hobble together something that is just barely sea worthy. And they begin congratulating themselves. “Now, we can go see Fred.” They say.
Just as they say this, Fred comes up on a 100 foot yacht. It is a beautiful thing, perfect and fast and sleek. Fred just quietly walks up to their sad little boat and shakes his head.
“Your motivations are all wrong.” He says, and he begins taking apart the boat. “Your going about this in all the wrong ways.”
They built up. And God might be there. But I don’t think that’s how God wants us to meet him. When we get to God under our own power, we start to think that we are like him. That we don’t need him.
A god who actually is at the center of existence would have to be incredibly sadistic to allow us to not realize how much we need him. The true God is no sadist. And so whenever we try to build upward to try to reach him, we can expect our efforts will be smashed down.
In my own life there have been times that I thought I could formulate an argument proving God’s existence. There have been times I thought I could use reason to discover the very nature of God himself.
Building upward metaphorically leads to a pretty interesting thing. At some point, the things we discover stop making sense. In cutting edge physics, for example, we end up having to embrace the idea that wave is both a wave and a particle. Space itself ends up with all sorts of extra dismentions. Gravity isn’t so much a force as the warping of space itself.
In Philosophy, one of the great minds of the 20th century said this:
My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
Wittgenstien might be paraphrased this way: The person who understands what I mean has climbed up my words and gotten past them. In a way, it’s like that person climbs up the ladder of my words and then realizes that the ladder itself is useless.
When we get to a certain height, things stop making sense. Perhaps this is the curse that was lain on us at the Tower of Babble. Our little brains can not get up to God. We stop understanding before then.