In his 2d Theological Oration, Gregory of Nazianzus covers, among other things, the surpassing transendence of God. “What God is in nature and essence, no man ever yet has discovered or can discover. Whether it will ever be discovered is a question which he who will may examine and decide” (17).
Later he says,
If it had been permitted to Paul to utter what the third heaven contained, and his own advance, or ascension, or assumption thither, perhaps we should know something more about God’s nature, if this was the mystery of the rapture. But since it was ineffable, we too will honor it by silence. Thus much we will hear Paul say about it, that we know in part, and we prophesy in part. This and the like to this are the confessions of one who is not rude in knowledge, who threatens to give proof of Christ speaking in him, the great doctor and champion of the truth. Wherefore he estimates all knowledge on earth only as through a glass darkly, as taking its stand upon little images of the truth.
Let us assume that you experienced the same thing as did the great Apostle Paul for a moment. Were you caught up, as Paul was, into the “third heaven,” and saw what Paul saw, how would you tell someone of the great and holy and mysterious things you experienced? Maybe this why Paul said,
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Would you dare to speak of the holy things revealed to you in that rapture? Even if you wanted to, how would you–how could you–describe them to someone who had not experienced these sacred things?
This made us think of Todd Mitchell’s excellent post from a couple days back (thank you, my friend, for saying it so well and so simply). How do you describe what is reverent? At what scientific evidence do you point to “prove” something is reverent or irreverent? The problem becomes even greater when you try to explain these things to a skeptic, who wants to defend impiety and irreverence and the virtue of worldliness at all costs. The exact nature of some of these things, of even God himself, is beyond our comprehension, and at times words fail us. Again quoting Gregory,
And if it be possible to put an end to the existing hostility, let us at least agree upon this, that we will utter mysteries under our breath, and holy things in a holy manner, and we will not cast to ears profane that which may not be uttered, nor give evidence that we possess less gravity than those who would sooner give their blood to the uninitiated than certain words. But let us recognize that as in dress and diet and laughter and demeanor there is a certain decorum, so there is also in speech and silence; since among so many titles and powers of God, we pay the higest honor to [the] Word. Let even our disputings the be kept within bounds (1st Theological Oration 5).