Every so often a number of seemingly unrelated fields of study come together; and it’s a rather happy get-together, like friends sitting around a campfire, flushed from the triumph of hitting the sedge fly hatch on a favourite lake. Fishing aside, what I’m talking about here is when three different courses at school offer you three different perspective on the same subject. As you know by now, we’ve been studying Genesis 1 in thorough detail in our Old Testament Exegesis class. Over in Dogmatics we’ve been examining the relationship between general and special revelation, that is, between nature and Scripture. And coming in way from left field, Anselm of Canterbury was the subject of my Church History paper. The three of them – Exegesis class, Dogmatics class, and Anselm – have been sitting around the very charming lakeside campfire that burns perpetually in the back of my mind, a fire lit many years ago when I first picked up a fishing rod. I won’t mention fishing again. But they’ve been chatting and I’ve been listening, and I offer a molehill of a post on what is too often a mountain of a subject.
From the moment I began learning about Anselm I recognized him as a kindred spirit. I won’t go into all the reasons why, but I will say that I felt particularly fond of him in a way that I’ve felt toward very few writers. He was born in 1033 and died in 1109, served as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and did a great deal of philosophizing, teaching, and writing. Among other things, he articulated the sacrificial atonement of Christ in a way that was later adopted by the Reformers, and is still used by us today in the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Days 5 and 6). But I refer to him here for a very simple statement that he once made: “For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.”
If there was ever a truth lost to modern man, that would be it. Indeed, in our age of skepticism and pluralism it seems as though the humble approach is the agnostic one, the way of simply shrugging your shoulders and denying that you really know anything at all. But while your neighbours go around busting up their rotator cuffs, paving the road to hell with their impingements, you walk that narrow, sure path in the middle of nowhere. It’s not that you don’t face the same confusion that they do, the same noise that comes from the internet, the media, and the shopping mall. It’s just that even before you open your ears to the great throng of voices firing at you from every direction, before you charge off into the multitude of words that wanteth not sin, you set your heart in the posture of belief, doing so boldly unto the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. You believe first, and only then do you set your mind to understand.
There is no other way to read Scripture. The understanding flows from Scripture into the world around us, and not the other way around. Only with eyes enraptured with the enchantment of the Word of God does the world become something sensible, something that we really can see, feel, touch, and above all, understand. The wine at the wedding feast in Cana was just that – wine; fermented grape juice. But while the wedding guests had no reason to think otherwise, what they were drinking did not, in fact, come from fermented grapes. Although wine is normally the end product of a very long and complicated process, this particular batch had been plain old purification water mere moments before. The only reason we know otherwise is because Scripture tells us that the Bright Morning Star spoke something into existence that was not there before.
In fact, without him was not anything made that was made, including the first morning and the first appearing of the bright stars. And the first morning happened on the first day, and the first stars appeared on the fourth day, and the holiness of God was imparted to the seventh day; in exactly the way that Exodus 20:11 says it all happened. Which is not to ignore that there are difficult questions to answer. In fact, there are questions that are impossible to answer, to the glory of our immeasurably wise Creator. And I mean that. It’s humbling enough to look through a telescope and to have your own smallness shoved rudely back at you by light years, by stellar magnitudes, and by the waste howling blackness that fills the space between the stars. But it’s even more humbling to stare at the first page or two of Scripture, and to know that everything you are reading there happened just as it said it did. Indeed, there is a God in heaven, clouds and darkness round about him, a God who both frustrates and laughs at the wisdom of the world; but to those who are willing to believe first, and then to understand, he is a God that revealeth secrets.