Mystery in an Age of Fact-Finding
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
“Do you want to cut straight to the facts?” This helpful pop-up window appeared after I’d scrolled through a handful of news articles on a major network’s website. It offered an opportunity to sign up for a morning news debrief. My immediate, internal answer was “no.” Not that I don’t find facts valuable or didn’t want to stay up-to-date with the latest news, but I wanted context. I wanted anticipated impact. I wanted the story.
We live in a data-driven age, with answers to every quantitative question right at our fingertips. People are turned into data points that are up for grabs for whomever is willing to pay. The facts are comfortable. We can collect our data, draw conclusions, and make sense of the world accordingly. This was the appeal of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. If we can understand the world, we don’t need to leave much room for troublesome mystery.
This upcoming Sunday, we celebrate the deepest mystery of our faith: the Holy Trinity. We have a beautiful theological history in our Church, developed through tough questions, heresy, and clearly defined answers. We can approach Trinity Sunday through the lens of systematic facts, and many people do. But — like my approach to a daily news briefing — I can’t fully understand the world without context. And I can’t begin to encounter the Trinity without relationships.
As we look at the Sunday readings more closely, they defy any attempt to rely on facts alone. They draw us into the mystery through relationship. In the first reading, Moses stirs up awe and devotion among the Hebrew people. “Ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great every happen before?” He evokes the voice of God, the pillar of fire leading the nation through the desert, their testing, and the miraculous defeat of the Egyptians. This recitation of truly “awe-some” facts has an objective: “Did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself?” Moses reminds the people of the mighty deeds of God on their behalf. As the Psalmist cries, “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own!”
The theme is continued in the second reading. Paul reminds the Romans of the Spirit of God received at baptism, through whom “we are children of God.” This is surely a “fact” we can know and recite, learned rote in our catechism classes. But Paul has something else in mind. God doesn’t see us the way Facebook does, as a data set to observe and analyze. The Triune God we rediscover today is a God of relation. Through His Spirit, we can cry out “Abba, Father!” and be lovingly embraced and received.
Belonging to the Lord, being in a relationship with the Trinity, is not always easy. Even the Apostles — who you’d think had it the easiest — “worshiped, but they doubted.” These Apostles who heard Jesus refer to God as his Father were witnesses to the Resurrection and had already been breathed upon in the first installment of the Holy Spirit. They had heard the “facts” of Jesus’ preaching — the Beatitudes, the parables, the Greatest Commandment. They could list his miracles like facts in a news ticker. But they still had a ways to go in relationship.
That’s good news for us! This side of Heaven, no one can claim perfect knowledge of God. Still, despite the gaps in our knowledge, God invites us to move in the mystery. The Apostles — despite their doubt — are not told to spend more time in religion class or read a few more evangelization blogs. Today’s Gospel is the Great Commission! “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The truth is, we belong to God in the here and now. Despite our doubts and fears, God calls us anyway. And he invites us to more than just the facts.
Eternal God, eternal Trinity,
You are a mystery as deep as the sea;
the more I search, the more I find,
and the more I find the more I search for You
When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger,
and I grow more famished for Your light.
I desire above all to see You,
the true light, as You really are.
Eternal Father, You have given me a share in your power
and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own,
and Your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you.
You have made me a new creation in the blood of Your Son,
and I know that You are moved with love
at the beauty of Your creation.
Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery as deep as the sea,
You could give me no greater gift than the gift of Yourself.
—Adapted from “O Eternal Trinity” by St. Catherine of Siena