Why You Should Leave Room in Your Theology for Mystery
Joe McKeeverJoe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website -- joemckeever.com -- and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from "official" ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. Over a 42 year period, McKeever pastored 6 churches (the last three were the First Baptist Churches of Columbus, MS; Charlotte, NC; and Kenner, LA). Followed by 5 years as Director of Missions for the 135 SBC churches of metro New Orleans, during which hurricane katrina devastated the city and destroyed many churches. Joe is married to Margaret, the father of three adults, and the proud grandfather of eight terrific young people. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (History, 1962), and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters in Church History, 1967, and Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism, 1973). Joe's father was a coal miner who married a farmer's daughter. Carl and Lois McKeever, both of whom lived past 95 years of age, produced 6 children, with Joe and Ronnie being ministers. Joe grew up near Nauvoo, Alabama, and attended high school at Double Springs. Joe's life verse is Job 4:4, "Your words have stood men on their feet."
- 2015 Oct 14
“…I know not; God knows.” (2 Corinthians 12:2)
Some things you will never figure out in this life.
Some mysteries you will eventually see–or the Spirit will reveal them to you or someone much smarter than you will explain it to you–but you haven’t so far.
Until then, humility is the order of the day. (And, yes, afterwards, humility is still in order.)
Here’s one that has me going.
In Romans 8:26, one of my favorite “prayer” verses, after informing us that “we do not know how to pray as we should”–I knew it; I’m just surprised that Paul admits it!–and after saying “The Spirit also helps us in (that) weakness”–we read that “the Spirit Himself also intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Okay. That sentence carries mystery enough to occupy me for the next few years.
Eight verses later, in Romans 8:34, we read: “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, and is at the right hand of God, interceding for us.”
Jesus, the eternal Son of the Heavenly Father, stands (or sits) at the right side of God, making intercession for the redeemed.
So, here we have the mystery: both the Holy Spirit (v.26) and the Son (v.34) are interceding for the saints.
God interceding with God. (Two outvoting the One?)
Figure that one out, because I cannot.
I don’t have a clue what that looks like or how that works.
I have a theory that this kind of intercession involves the two members of the Trinity intercepting and interpreting my prayers.
But it’s merely a theory.
I don’t know how that would work either.
It seems to me that “since we do not know how to pray as we should,” and since the Holy Spirit “gets on the other side (of my inadequacy) and together with me gets under the burden and lifts” (which is the almost literal meaning of the compound Greek word translated “helps”), that here is what’s going on….
My prayers arrive in Heaven as baby talk. So much gibberish. And yet, parents love baby talk. Few sounds are more delightful than the first attempts of an infant to speak. The child seems to know what he or she is saying and comes out with a string of something. We who adore the child love the gibberish..
Then, between the Spirit and the Son, perhaps One turns toward the throne and says, “Here is what they are saying, Father.” So they interpret your and my prayers, putting them in the language of Heaven.
As I say, I do not know.
And this little theory of mine–how things might be operating in Heaven–depends on a degree of separation between the Three Members of the Holy Trinity that baffles me. They are obviously not three Bodies, some sort of celestial triumvirate. The exact nature of the Trinity and its makeup, the interworkings, all of that, completely baffles me, as it has most humans over these centuries.
And that’s all right.
I like to think of prayer as involving two things on earth: Prayer is need-driven and faith-powered. The needs will drive you to your knees and faith will connect you with the Heavens.
And in Heaven, both the Spirit and the Son take those prayers–weak attempts of ours to speak the language of heaven as they are–and after intercepting them, they interpret them. “Father, here is what she is trying to say.”
Does it happen like that?
Maybe so, maybe not.
As I say, I’m fine with the unanswered question, good with leaving the mystery there.
I determine to keep reading and praying and thinking about these things.
Does it bother me that I do not have this worked out into some orderly presentation for sermons and teaching? Not in the least. When I was a young pastor I thought the Lord’s man needed an answer for all these questions that arise. Maturity has disabused me of that little bit of foolishness.
I know a funny Calvin Miller story about leaving-room-for-mystery in your theology that I’ll tell you sometime. But you’ll have to ask.
As I said, we’ll leave a little room for something more.
(Later. By popular request, here is the link to the Calvin Miller story: http://joemckeever.com/wp/ah-sweet-mysteries/)
Publication date: October 14, 2015