Dissonance and Harmony

As I learn the many differences of opinion between well-informed, truth-loving Christians on a wide variety of issues, I’m reminded that truth often appears to be elusive because it is truth. Truth comes from God, who is eternal. Truth is eternal, and finite beings like us need to know our place when dealing with it.

We worship a God who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16), and yet he says “those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). But we usually opt for one over the other — either God is unknowable, or he’s too knowable. Most of the time he’s usually seen as too knowable. Our knowledge about him is usually assumed where it’s not nearly as revealed. Christians argue about who’s closer to that light, even if we may admit that it is essentially unapproachable.

These tensions we experience have as their root a tension between what are often called God’s transcendence and God’s immanence —  his greatness and his nearness to us in Christ. We’re meant to experience this deep tension, but our inclination is to want to get rid of it by emphasizing one over the other. And although God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), the reality is that God revealing himself to us in Christ is much more of a mystery than we are willing to admit. “Christ is the head of the church, his body . . . This mystery is profound” (Eph 5:23,32).

But what if we understood that the dissonance that so often divides Christians is actually meant to point to the existence of truths that are too transcendent to be comprehended and expressed by any one of us in their full beauty? What if we saw all of our pursuits after truth as the playing of different musical instruments within one majestic symphony, all frantically playing according to our own melodies and rhythms as we look to the leading of our Great Conductor? If that were to happen, maybe we would see our dissonance as harmony in disguise. And although we’d realize that none of us are reading the notes perfectly, we’d rejoice that the Conductor is using our dissonance to reflect the glory of music he’s written ages ago.

I’m not doubting that truth can be known, because “truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). God has revealed himself to us in the pages of Scripture and in the Gospel it testifies to. The Conductor has given all of us sheet music. We disagree on some areas about how the sheet music is best interpreted, but that doesn’t mean we’re not all seeking to follow the same Conductor. Ultimately it’s up to the Conductor to decide who gets to play, and who’s only “a resounding gong or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor 13:1).

It is refreshing for me to know that we’re meant to remain in the tension between the realities of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. For quite a while, I’ve thought my continual wrestlings with truth meant that I’m doubting truth. But it’s so refreshing to know I’m not doubting truth — I’m really only doubting my own finitude and trusting more deeply in the God of truth. I love praying this ancient Hebrew prayer:

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
God of Truth, deliver us!

My deep longing for those of us who hold claim on truth over and against others is that we would realize that it is possible to sincerely and prayerfully pursue truth as it has been revealed to us in Holy Scripture and come to different conclusions. The more we study the Bible and theology the more humility is cultivated in our hearts. We usually assume learning much produces pride, but in reality the more we learn the more we realize we how little we really truly know. More on this to come later on. However, I think it’s appropriate to end with an African proverb I came across:

From a distance, I thought you were a monster.
When you got closer, I thought you were an animal.
When you got closer still, I thought you were my enemy.
But when you came face to face, I saw you were my brother.

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