One thing that we’re awfully proud of in Mormonism is our naturalistic theology. We’re very pleased that we’ve managed to slam closed the ontological gap between God and man. We tell each other, like Brigham Young did, that there are no miracles, just things science doesn’t understand yet. Christ is simply our literal elder brother, spirit is actually matter, God is, happily, bound by natural laws or when we do what he says. We have the works of God reasoned out, be it through the list of things he wants us to do that today’s General Authorities offer or the cosmologies of those who taught at the dawn of the twentieth century.

At some level this troubles me.

Because I keep thinking about the weird majesty of that sea of glass.

I do not argue for the popular Mormon neo-orthodox God – the classically omnipotent, omniscient deity who manages to transcend logic in order to reconcile foreknowledge with free will. Neither do I argue for the incomprehensible God who tells Job to suck it up because it’s hopeless for a mortal to try to understand why he might do things. I don’t believe in either. In fact, the funny thing is that I agree with (almost) all I’ve said above. But I do believe that it is important – for reasons aesthetic as much as theological – to admit that we cannot fully understand how or why God may do what he does. As Rudolf Otto knew, the particular beauty of the holy depends to some degree on its mystery.

God is not the neatly groomed, placidly kind grandfather of Del Parsons’ First Vision, nor is he the petty dealmaker whom we can cut deals with, a la Drawing on the Powers of Heaven. Too often I hear the D&C invoked to turn deity into a vending machine, into which we insert five dollars of works to receive pre-designated blessings. We are in danger of oversimplifying God to fit our own desires, be they for rationality or comfort. Do we really want to boil him down to a great physicist? Nothing more than a benevolent Santa Claus? Simply a schoolmaster who offers us a dry and simple list of rules and rewards?

There is something great and terrible about the Incarnation. There is a weird power in the image of divinity plunging dagger-like through the unbreakable boundary that traditional Protestant theology teaches is the Fall; of Christ shattering the paradox of our damnation and triumphing over the grim and great processes of death and hell to rescue us from the absolute depths of our hopelessness – that which, by natural law, we were inexorably consigned to. This is the glory that Martin Luther saw in the Cross; this is the beauty and awe of Catholic mysticism. It is impossible, says Scripture, to see God and live. And yet deity walked among us, was tormented, and died. It is impossible, yet it happened. There is a starkness to the statement – it points us to the drama and awfulness at the heart of Christianity. And it cannot be completely understood, or rationalized, or reduced to platitudes. The Puritans, bless their neurotic little hearts, were on to something when they told us to fear and love God, for he is terrible as well as wonderful.