Mounds candy bar was originally advertised as indescribably delicious. So good you had to taste it to believe it. Scripture makes a similar claim, but not about candy bars.
Peter Paul Candy Manufacturing Company introduced Mounds in 1920. In 1961, the chocolate and coconut candy bar got a moniker—indescribably delicious. Mounds is so supposedly out-of-this-world good, it surpasses what words can adequately convey.
The Apostle Paul made a similar claim, but not about candy bars. He prayed that believers would “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19). It’s a soaring prayer but how can you know something that surpasses knowing?
Paul’s word choice provides a clue. Paul uses gnosis for know—Greek for experiential knowledge. You have to taste, touch, feel—experience—this love to know it. We learn how this happens by reading the lectionary readings wrapped around Paul’s prayer.
The first is Elisha telling his servant to feed 100 men with a few loaves of bread (II Kings 4). The servant pauses. There isn’t enough bread. Sure there is, says Elisha, go feed them. The servant does as he is told and, amazingly, there is more than enough bread.
The second story is the feeding of the 5,000 (Jn. 6:1-21). Jesus wonders aloud where to buy enough bread to feed the crowd. His disciples cringe. It would take six months to make enough money to give each person just one bite. There is however a boy with a few loaves and fish, “but how far will they go among so many?” Plenty far, says Jesus, go feed them. The disciples obey and next experience a miracle—more than enough bread.
The pattern is that commitment and experience help us know what surpasses knowledge. The servant and disciples obey—they commit—and experience the amazing. “I believe in order that I might understand” is how St. Augustine put it. You have to commit—believe—to experientially know—understand. It’s a knowledge that yields a wow.
This is how marriage works. A couple exchanges vows—commit—and afterward experiences nuptial union—a wow. The Bible calls this knowledge (Gen. 4:1).
This is why marriage is the central metaphor for the gospel. As groom, Jesus is coming to marry his bride, the church. No groom wants to marry an unenthusiastic bride, so Jesus woos her. Wooing is experiencing a taste of love, knowing it “in part” (I Cor. 13:13) In this life, committed believers experience tastes of Christ’s love.
But there’s another way to view these stories. Commit and experience involves risk and reward. Marriage is a risk. The rewards are great, but there are no guarantees. In the same way, the servant and Jesus’ followers risked falling flat on their face (or starting a food riot) in distributing seemingly meager resources. There were no guarantees as to the outcome. There is a reward, but as Hebrews 11 reminds us, some get their reward in this life while others experience it in the next. Either way, the reward is indescribable.
I find risk and reward more helpful than commit and experience. Risks expose insecurities. Insecurities foster fears. Jesus doesn’t want to marry a fearful bride. The antidote is perfect love, because it casts out fear (I Jn. 4:18). Experiencing this love, the love of Christ, will slowly but surely get you beyond your insecurities. But it requires taking risks, which is not the same thing as being reckless. Recklessness is throwing caution to the wind. Risk is following a calling. It’s a high risk, high reward endeavor.
There are indications that few believers take these kinds of risks anymore. Researchers at Tilburg University found strong evidence that more religious people, as measured by church membership or attendance, are more risk averse. Alan Hirsch, an Australian who has written several books on the church and missions, describes churches as risk adverse (https://vimeo.com/19910809/).
Iain McGilchrist roots our risk aversion in the Enlightenment, but that’s grist for another mill. We’ll grind that grain next week. This week is about how Peter Paul gets it right. You have to taste the indescribably delicious to know how good it is. We see this in scripture as well. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Tasting—risking—is the best way we know the wondrous love of Christ that goes beyond words.
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