The Overwhelming Complexity of Irreducible Awe

This Jesus way of being is awkward and confusing. Just thought somebody should say it, at some point. I’m doing a ton of reading and writing today, and I’m more and more coming to realize that we use simple phrases to redact complex thoughts because it protects us from the overwhelming onslaught of irreducible awe.

Maybe it helps if you know that I am by nature the sort of person who manages very complex thoughts easily and quickly by using representative abstractions. I am the sort of person who reads a book on something new, and leaves with a neatly cataloged taxonomy of ideas drawn from the text. I am the sort of person who takes something as wondrous and vast as musical tension and resolution, and redacts it into teachable principles for eager students. My material existence is a running shambles of misplaced papers and strewn audio gear, but my mental world is beautifully well organized.

But this Jesus way of being indicts my mind; it doesn’t allow for this kind of reduction. We use simple words to refer to complex ideas (like love, or sin, or faith), but then we tend to forget that the simplicity is only there to stand in place for a little while, to keep us from the cumbersome task of having to move mountains every time we talk. The simplicity is not the thing itself. If we talk about God, Jesus, Faith in ways that make them simple, then we are not talking about the real thing-in-itself. Anyone who claims to have a simple understanding of these things is deluded.

I know that for most of you, this is nothing new or revolutionary; it is part of how you navigate the world. I thought that it might be helpful to jot it down though, just in case any of you might be feeling my same frustration at not being able to circumvent the deep mystery of God by using convenient handles. I want ideas about faith to be easily transferable, defendable, and replicable.

But it seems to me that the awe of complexity is a more precious thing than the simple reduction. Perhaps we should go for a season where we don’t use the word “Love” to refer to anything at all, and instead we communicate with the full overwhelming onslaught of irreducible awe.

Maybe the language of faith should be more like Old Entish than Binary Code.

9 thoughts on “The Overwhelming Complexity of Irreducible Awe

  1. aly hawkins

    Great writing, Michael.
    How lovely to be reminded that the Biggest of Things can never fit on a bumper sticker or edited into a sound bite, and summing up works against the apprehension that They cannot be apprehended. This is the beginning of humility.

  2. Chad

    The Old Entish Translation of the Bible (hitherto referred to as the OET) is heretical and reveals your apostate heart. Repent and submit.
    Rick Warren is Satan’s man whore.

  3. Morphea

    I’m with Aly, Michael. Beautiful to read. And so true that I had to go away and think about it for a second. Now to the levity…
    We should have Irreduceable Awe Retreats, where we verbally, musically, or visually do our dead-level best to express that which cannot be expressed in human minds, bodies, words.
    Some of us [me] would babble unendingly trying to “move mountains”, and some of us would just stand around with looks of awe on our faces and making fish mouths.
    Come on, it would be funny.

  4. Morphea

    Michael, this post helps me a lot in understanding your viewpoint in nearly every other topic on this blog, by the way.
    That’s a good thing, mister.

  5. michael lee Post author

    morphea, you put that retreat together, and I’ll totally sign up to be the guest speaker. i could put togther cool little talks that last 45 mintues and leave us all feeling refreshed but convicted. then we could break out into small groups to discuss the talks for another 45 minutes, then lunch and activities!
    Or. maybe just the fish mouths thing. that sounds more like it.

  6. Morphea

    Honestly, cuteness aside. We’d totally alternate between saying an awful lot and then not being able to say much at all. It’s comical to think about, but I think it’d be pretty friggin’ mind-blowing, too. Especially with you lot. Now that I’ve met most of you I can say that.
    And the music would kick booty.

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