Yesterday I posted something on Twitter about people who have “lost” or were “losing” their faith. I was thankful to be pressed by those more careful than I on my use of words. Words matter. Chris Green weighed in wisely and carefully:
“I think this is a distinction worth contending for: *faith* as God’s gift can no more be lost than it can be achieved; but *my beliefs* and my *confidence* in my beliefs–even my confidence in my confidence in those beliefs!–just naturally wax and wane and sometimes break. That breaking is painful, obviously, and we should never be glib about it; but in truth it has no bearing on my relation to God. Indeed, it may very well be that the coming near of God is the source of the pressure that is breaking my beliefs and self-confidence!”
Others offered helpful words too, but the sentiment was the same: our “lostness” is an experience but not a reality, ultimately. But here, shouldn’t we explore our “finding,” too? Just this morning I read that mysterious little story in John 1 about Nathanael. Nathanael had, in his own way, been searching for the Messiah. Philip, a searcher too, “found” Nathanael and told him “we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” It’s interesting, the double use of the word “found“ here. Philip assumed, I imagine, as most of us do, that he found Jesus in perhaps the same way that he found Nathanael. Nathanael’s absence was a mystery to be solved and, following the clues, he found him. And here we state that this much is true: God is mystery. But Daniel Castelo (drawing from Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall) makes an important point: God is not a puzzle to be solved, God is “revelational mystery” (Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, 48). As Castelo explains, “here the mysterious sense is not something to be overcome but, rather, something to be apprehended and taken into account as such” (ibid, 49). Perhaps we could say that revelational mystery is not, as Castelo puts it, “something to be overcome“ but is, instead, something by which we *are* overcome; it is not sometime we apprehend, but are apprehended by.
So Philip and Nathanael make their way to the Messiah, the one they believe they have, at last, found. But Jesus confounds Nathanael by telling him things about his own self. Dumbfounded, but drawn in, Nathanael responds, “How do you know me?” Jesus responds to him, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This seeing causes Nathanael to make a faith confession. But let’s be careful not to miss what’s going on here: before Nathanael saw he was seen. Before he found, he was found. Before he confessed, a confession was made of him: “Here truly is an Israelite in whom their is no deceit.” One thing this strange story reveals to us then, is that it is not just our losing that needs relocating, but our finding as well.
Heschel once wrote that “mystery is not there, while we are here. The truth is we are all steeped in it, imbued with it; we are , partly, it” (Man Is Not Alone, 47). And so it is with the location of the revelational mystery of God. It is not something out *there* to lose or find, it surrounds us at all time. “He has the whole world in his hands,” some of us used to sing. There is a truth here. All of our wandering, looking, leaving, searching, finding, and returning take place upon the palms of the hands of God, if you will. We experience all these things deeply, but we experience them while being held. And if the paradoxes weren’t enough, we also recall that the hands that hold us are wounded hands and the closer we allow ourselves to journey towards those wounds, the deeper we find our healing to be. These are the hands that hold “the whole world.”
None of this is to downplay the pain, or even the ”breaking,” of our experience of leaving, or the ecstasy of the experience of our finding – it’s rather to situate them in the deeper mysterious Love that is Christ, the one who holds us.