“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV)
Recently, I re-read Chaim Potok’s books The Chosen and The Promise. If you’ve never read these two novels, set during the period at the end of WWII through the early 1950s in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, I recommend them. The novels follow two boys, who grow to manhood — Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders. Reuven is an Orthodox Jew and the son of a scholar in textual criticism. Reuven and his father are devout, obedient, observant Jews. Danny Saunders, however, is the son of a Hasidic rebbe and meant to follow in his father’s footsteps as the leader of their community. They are more orthodox than the Orthodox and suspicious of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their version of Jewish fundamentalism. But Danny is also a genius and his intense curiosity and intellect lead him to the writings of Freud and others his father would not approve of.
I first read these books when I was in college, but in re-reading them something new really jumped out at me. One of the themes of these novels revolves around the tension between scholarship and mysticism, between science and faith. For many of the characters, those are concepts not easily reconciled, and Potok doesn’t give the reader any easy answers. I think he leans toward the faith end, but he also doesn’t shrink from showing the weaknesses in both ways of thinking. When I finished, though, I came away with a sense that we’ve left something behind in our embrace of all things rational. There are mysteries of God that cannot be explained by modern scientific method.
I’m pretty orthodox in my doctrine and I believe we are called to apply our minds as well as our hearts to understanding what God wants of us. But we’re missing an important aspect of understanding God when we try to boil the Gospel down to a few steps to be followed by rote.
I think the scripture I quote above addresses this balance between mystery and reason. We are to worship in spirit — with our hearts — and in truth — with our minds. I don’t think it’s an impossible balance.