Experiencing the mysterious self-revelation and self-communication of God
This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.
“I can’t explain it,” someone says after the worship service, “but I just know that something happened today while we were [fill in the blank here – singing, praying, testifying, listening to the sermon, etc.], and I had the distinct sense that God was in it, and that I could almost feel His presence!”
It might have been during a particularly dramatic service, or surprisingly, it might have been in a ‘regular’ meeting in which nothing particularly dramatic had been presented. Or perhaps it was in a prayer meeting, or in small group, or even while reading or praying alone at home, or while talking about God with a friend over coffee. Or a person might experience such feelings in the course serving and attending to the needs of others.
What happened? Was it just our imagination – just emotions? And since we can’t seem to explain exactly what occurred, was it real, or just a warm fuzzy feeling? We like logic and want to be sound-minded. Shouldn’t we be able to describe what happened?
Well, no, not always.
What we may be experiencing is the mysterious self-revelation and self-communication of God to us in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Some of the greatest Christian minds of our time (Barth and T.F. Torrance) remind us that that when we know the love of God through the grace of Jesus in the communion of the Holy Spirit, we know far more than we can actually grasp or express. And such knowing may occur as we actively participate in mission and worship, as Elmer Colyer points out in How to Read T.F. Torrance (2007, Wipf & Stock Publishers).
For Torrance, we know God through evangelical (from the Father through the Son in the Spirit) and doxological (in the Spirit through the Son to the Father) participation in the gospel.
Torrance argues that the Holy Trinity can only be known evangelically and doxologically, in a transformative encounter with the love of God through the grace of Christ and in the communion of the Holy Spirit which includes personal faith, thanksgiving, worship and prayer, first in the vicarious humanity of Christ and then in us (p. 287).
In Torrance’s theology God is intrinsically knowable, for the Word of God incarnate as Jesus Christ inheres in the being of God. Yet this self-revelation and self-communication of God to us through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit is an astonishing and inexhaustible mystery.
God does not simply reveal a proposition about God to which we assent. What the living God gives to us is a Self-revelation and Self-communication through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit which reconciles us, redeems us from our sin, and radically transforms us from unbelieving, self-centered and ungrateful sinners into children of God.
God does all this only through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit who unites us to Christ in Christ’s oneness of being, knowing and loving with God the Father so that we share at least in some degree in God’s own self-knowing and self-loving. Torrance describes this as a kind of ecstatic passion, for what we know of God is an inexhaustible mystery, the inexhaustible mystery of the Trinity so replete in depth and breadth of content that we cannot master and capture it within the confines of our concepts. We come to know far more of God than we can tell.
In all of our theological inquiry into the Trinity, Torrance contends that we have to acknowledge this implicit, informal, inarticulate, inexhaustible element (which is cognitive but not reducible to propositions) of God’s self-revelation and self-communication through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit which engenders our faith, love and worship, and which ought always to keep our statements and concepts open to the inexhaustible mystery of the triune God (p. 288).