Theologians distinguish between two broad streams of thinking about God – kataphatic and apophatic. You can’t use these in Scrabble, but they are worth knowing. The former focuses on what can be known about God, whereas the latter stresses what can’t be known. We live our lives somewhere in the middle of course, and in the West leaning more toward certainty than mystery.
But every once in a while something happens beyond explanation. Two weeks ago I went out one afternoon to play golf, getting paired up with three guys I didn’t know. After a few holes, one of them asked what I do. When I told him I’m a seminary professor, he shared with me that he’s a pastor. I’m always up for talking shop, so I asked, “Where did you do your seminary work?” Believe it or not, that’s a risky question these days because while everyone I know prefers their physician to be educated, not all churches require that of their clergy. Thankfully, he had been to seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary to be exact.
What a small world, I thought, because the person who was most influential in me going to seminary, albeit a different one, had attended Dallas Theological. When I asked what years he had attended, I couldn’t believe it – about the same time as my mentor. “Did you happen to know Rick Dunham?” He said he did, and the next thing I know we were exchanging email addresses so he could send me contact information. Then I told my new golfing buddy how it was I came to be called to ministry.
I was a sophomore in college, and one Wednesday in the summer of 1978, I had gone to Rick and Judi’s house before heading to the church for a Bible study that evening. Rick said he needed to look over his notes, and when he plopped down on the couch beside me, he opened up a Greek New Testament. I was instantly intrigued, asked if I could look at it, and the next thing I know the words coming out of my mouth were, “Do you think God would let me learn Greek?” I have no idea why I asked that question, but the next day I started learning Greek and taught myself quite a bit of it before I ever got to seminary. That’s definitely apophatic!
Equally unexplainable, the home that Rick and his wife were renting that summer belonged to a professional golfer who was away on tour, Kermit Zarley. And here I was all these years later, reliving it all on a golf course. I have no words for some things that happen in our lives. Except maybe, “Thanks be to God.”