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May 23, 2021: Categories and Mysteries

“‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied” (Josh. 5:13–14, NIV).

Categories, juxtapositions, contradictions, polarizations. The more we live, the more we understand that things are not black and white—that life is complex and messy most of the time. When it comes to faith, categorizing to avoid confusion and ambiguity seems paramount. It’s like an ancient push we feel.

We see this in the Old Testament. Joshua was the leader and general of the Israelites. When he “was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come’” (Josh. 5:13–14, NIV).

Reverently, Joshua fell to the ground and asked what message God had for him. “The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy’” (verse 15).

This story is phenomenal. Joshua, as a commander, is used to thinking in categories and ranks. When he asks for them, God doesn’t give them to him. When we ask for categories, God sometimes responds “neither” or, in the original Hebrew, “no,” because sometimes reality does not fit into categories. In the presence of God, what matters is that everything that surrounds us is holy.

Maybe, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “mystery is not the absence of meaning but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.” Worship is accepting this mystery.

Lord, help me to trust You when there are things I don’t understand. Amen.

Nestor Bruno is the director of the Ministry Care Line for Kettering Adventist HealthCare in Ohio.

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