Beauty in the Whole and the Parts

I once had a friend who was only ever confident he understood something when he had taken it down to its component parts. If he bought a new tool or device, he would take it from its box and begin to pull it apart, eager to know how it worked before ever actually using it. If his wife brought flowers into the home, you might find him dismantling one on the kitchen table, separating stamen from petals and leaves from stems until each piece was laying by itself and he understood how all the parts made up the whole. Endlessly curious and endlessly analytical, he couldn’t help himself—he just had to know.

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His wife, though, was of a very different personality type. She tolerated his habit well enough, but didn’t really understand or appreciate it. She was content to leave the flowers unmolested and intact, to enjoy them as whole objects in their natural state. She was content to take devices from their packaging and to put them straight to work without first pulling them to bits.

I think of them often as I consider the wonderful discipline of theology. In theology we make a study of God—of his works and of his ways. With Scripture as our guide—with God’s revelation of himself as our starting point—we gaze deeply into matters almost too wonderful to behold. And as we study our God we find there is blessing in the macro and the micro, in the whole and in the parts.

We come to see that God is triune, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons, yet one God. We can go deeper and deeper into the Scriptures, we can apply reason and logic, and over time arrive at a more confident and developed doctrine of the Trinity. We can ponder how the Father relates to the Son in ways that are distinct from the ways he relates to the Spirit; we can ponder the ways each was present and active in the great work of creation; we can ponder how each plays a key role in our redemption. This is good and such study is rewarding. Yet it is also good to simply enjoy the Trinity on the most basic and assembled level, to simply acknowledge, “God is one and God is three and to me this is a great mystery.” There is blessing in the whole as much as in the parts.

The same is true when we consider the doctrine of salvation. We can map out a whole ordo salutis, a logical sequence of events that took place to draw us from darkness to light. We can debate the exact order of the steps; we can refine our terminology; we can do our best to reconcile the sovereignty of God with the responsibility of man. All of this is a good and spiritually-rewarding study. Yet sometimes we also do well to step back and simply say, “God is sovereign. Man is responsible. And for today I am content to simply affirm those two statements as friends rather than enemies.” There is beauty in the most basic whole as much as in the most advanced parts.

There are some who are like my friend and are only content when they have gone as deep as they can, when they have taken a doctrine apart and put it back together. There are some like my friend’s wife who are content to take a doctrine at face value and not invest substantial effort in going endlessly deeper. Both approaches are good, both approaches are right, and both approaches are rewarding in their own way. For both reveal God’s beauty and glory.