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The Mystery That is Tremendous and Fascinating

I am no theologian. But I do want to share a few thoughts, and I'll try to make the abstract a little bit more practical. I was introduced to an interesting description of God in a semi-autobiographical book that I read about one of my favorite authors. The phrase is Latin (because everything sounds smarter in Latin).

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

The mystery that is tremendous and fascinating.

But it has another meaning. The author of the book borrowed it from a German Protestant theologian Rudolf Otto who wrote a book in 1917 called The Idea of the Holy. In his book Otto said that humans experience the holy or “numinous” (which was his word for God or spirit) as the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”; that which both repels and attracts. And the idea is that God is a great truth. A great being. A great power who is “wholly other” -- completely other; completely unlike us. And of whom our knowledge is limited or at least our capacity to completely comprehend Him. And this greatness of His is that which both repels us, but also attracts us.

So, this is what I find so interesting. That He is more than we can fathom, so overwhelming, and so powerful and fearful, we pull back. And we tremble in His presence. But He is also glorious, beautiful and loving. And we are amazed at this, and we are drawn to seek a relationship with Him. We can look at many examples in Scripture that bear this out.

In the book of Job, Zophar says, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11.7) Later, God says, “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place,” (Job 38.12) In Revelation, the apostle John describes an amazing (but also kind of scary) scene of being in the presence of God (Revelation 4.1-8). We can also look back on Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses, who certainly knew something about the nature of God, asks in Exodus to see God's face. To see His glory and, in a way, to then to draw closer to Him (Exodus 33.18). And the Hebrew writer encourages us to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10.22a).

As interesting as I think all of this is, I think it's more amazing that this “wholly other numinous” divine and all powerful “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” has taken a step toward us. Reaching out to you and me through the body and blood of His only Son. Jesus rebukes the Jews in John:

“If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”

John 8.42

To complete this thought, we need to talk for just a moment about atonement. So, I really like definitions of words and knowing where they come from and what they mean. And so, I did a word study on “atone.” It was short, because it's a very elegant concept, but it comes from a very simple origin. The word “atone” comes from the two words: “at” and “one.” And I thought it would be much more interesting and complicated than that. To make atonement which is the idea of reconciliation. So, when we think about that as a mystery -- a mystery that the angels longed to look into: the mystery of the gospel (1 Peter 1.12).

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

1 John 3.5

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4.10

There's that atonement -- making us again at one with Him.

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3.26-29

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

Praise God for revealing the mystery that is tremendous and fascinating.