Limited Paradigms and the Mystery of God

mystery of God

I wanted to share a little bit from my personal journal from a couple of weeks back…

“Couldn’t go back to sleep, so I’m taking advantage of a quiet, still house. The time just changed so I don’t know…is it 5am? 7am? Guess it doesn’t matter, my body is awake now. Also, thinking about the personality tests that I was looking at yesterday– I can imagine for some, it is quite encouraging, but for me it is…bleak. Enneagram 8w7 (?)(most likely) and the “warnings” are not great. Same for ENTJ *Myers Briggs* Lord, I trust you with how you made me. I trust that you are working to bring forth Christ within me, but I struggle with all “me” stuff. Do I despise it? Cherish it? Think about it with ambivalence? I know that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by you– the Great Designer! But I also know that my old self has died with Christ. Help me to be hidden in you.”

I share this to extend the invitation to you– if you are struggling with the cultural moment we are in, the one that is hyper-obsessed with personality tests and self-actualizationing and “Be Your Best Self” mentality, then pull up a chair. Your questions are safe here. I have so many! Your concerns are met with eye contact and a nod. I get it. And your peeked interest isn’t scolded or waved off as nonsense. I’m here with you!

Along with the general busyness of life and random interests (like the one mentioned above), I’m also in an intense season of school. As I mentioned recently on my Instagram story series, What Do Y’all Think? (referencing the Enneagram test/philosophy), I’ve been studying the book of Colossians and writing a lot about it. It is a short epistle (letter) of the Apostle Paul (which is contested in some circles, but I believe it is from him) to the young church at Colossae. The Colossians are dealing with false teachers that have come into their community and are spreading divergent ideas from the gospel of Christ that they had come to faith by– this is academically known as the “Colossian heresy.” Now, the nature of the teachings isn’t explicitly stated in the book- there are no footnotes telling us the finer points of the false doctrine. But there are plenty of clues and several great (and in-depth) resources available if you are interested in digging deeper. I’ll link a couple at the bottom of this post to get you started.

Likewise, there is a TON of information available on the history and modern-day use of the Enneagram that you are free to search out for yourself. My heart for this post is not to be an “Enneagram bashing” position, because hey- I understand that it is fascinating! There is *some* insight to how we function as individuals, how we act out according to base motivations, etc. I will say that the origins of the Enneagram are suspect at best, and I will let you read up on this post if you like. I don’t know the author of this article, but I found some of her points to be valid (when cross-referenced with other sources) and felt like I should include it here. All of that to say, there are many things in our culture that have derived from less-than-Christian origins that still have some validity, but we are also called to be discerning about what we allow into our minds/hearts/souls. Which brings me back to Colossians.

So Paul writes this letter to the men and women at Colossae and the first thing that strikes me about the tone of his letter is how fatherly it comes across. I hope that doesn’t trigger you -because I know father relationships are complicated- but just imagine this elder of the faith writing to a bunch of young families and singles who have gathered together under the banner of Christ, and who have been recently infiltrated with another set of ideas that are seeking to destroy the growing unity. Of course he would be concerned! And rightly so.

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Col. 2:1-4, NIV) 

Paul is not coming down on the people for seeking out understanding, for desiring mystery, or for wanting to search for hidden treasure. No! Paul knew the nature of people- that we long for spiritual transcendence. That we inherently know, in deepest part of our gut and with every breath that we take, that we were made for something more than what we can see and touch. And he tells them right away, Look, I am contending for you! I am fighting for you! 

He continues in verse 8-

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

And yes, I realize that the particular philosophy that he is refuting is a pre-gnostic-meets-Judeo-mysticism flavor of teaching, but I gotta be honest. There are more than a few things about this strand of teaching that reminds me of the Enneagram path, and I just don’t trust it. If you’d like to discuss this more, feel free to email or DM me on Instagram. (I love to hear from y’all and I know that many of you are very educated about it! So I’m totally willing to listen and learn.) But beyond the ways that the Enneagram might or might not align with this teaching, I think there is still something related here. Something for us to consider.

Okay, so Paul is addressing a way of thinking that is auxiliary to the original, orthodox teaching that the believers heard and accepted. He is confronting a teaching that seeks to debase the true gospel of Christ– that Jesus is the one and only way to God and that He is sufficient. Nothing need be added. Christ is enough. This would be the thesis of Paul’s letter called “Colossians.”

Earlier in the letter, Paul begins his greeting with a prayer that he has been interceding on behalf of his people, saying,

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God..” (Col. 1:9, NASB, emphasis added)

And in a similar letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes again,

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Eph. 1:17, NIV)

When we read these scriptures, in the context of what was happening at the time of writing, we must recognize that we are being invited to dig into the “full riches of complete understanding” as Paul wrote to the Colossians. Are we any different than they? Well, of course, in many shallow ways, yes. But in a deeper sense, we are so alike them. We live in a culture that prizes intellect and exciting philosophy, just as they did. We live quite wealthy (as many of the Greek and Roman people did for their time) and therefore, have time to spend reading and debating and exploring all manner of teaching.

And man, I love to learn! Like I said earlier, I’m fascinated by how people think and feel. We are interesting creatures, us humans. But there is a deeper life that Christ calls us into when we take up His cross…when we die to our self. We are leaving that old way of thinking behind. We are giving over that familiar reliance on our old thought processes, on our fickle emotions, on our limited intuition…and we are giving it over to Christ Himself. We are forsaking our reliance on human tradition and paradigms. We are starving any hunger for spirituality that does not originate in the person of Jesus Christ.

Whether it is the Enneagram or Tony Robbins-style psychology or any other manner of self-help teaching, we are called to lay it down at the altar of Christ. If the thing, whatever it may be, brings real glory to Him, then it will endure. But if it seeks to glorify ourselves, the strong and wonderful part of ourselves OR the broken and perverse part of ourselves, then it is doomed from the beginning. So why waste our time?

As I’ve shared with a few of you already, I think we’ve been given much grace to learn and to grow in our walk with the Lord. Paul’s heart to the believers was not condemning at all! But it was exhorting them towards something better. Something more lasting, something eternal. He was pointing them towards Christ Himself, because He is fully sufficient for all of our wondering about it all- for all of our longing for mystery and treasure and to be really and truly transformed. He is the true Spirit of wisdom and understanding and He lacks nothing. In Him, we find everything we need (and more, vastly more!) to be changed. He is life-changing.

Because isn’t that what we are really hungry for? We seek to understand our strengths and our shortcomings all in the pursuit of “moving towards health.” But ya know what? Our spirit will never find that health, that life, outside of Him. He must increase, we must decrease.

I hope that you, dear reader, take this with the spirit it was written in…I am cheering you on! And I am right there with you, learning every single day. There is no condemnation when we are in Christ, so be free! But also be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and be aware of the world that we live in. Not every source is a trustworthy one.

The Instagram story prompted some great conversation with y’all. Thank you to everyone who gave me feedback and who engaged with the sincere, open and honest way that I’ve come to expect from my readers! A sweet friend shared some of her experience with the Enneagram and it just resonated with me, so I thought I’d share it- maybe it will speak life to you too.

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This is the Jesus that I know! He comes to us in love, real love, and offers His life to us. He does not sneer at our immaturity or laugh at our child-like curiosity. He speaks truth because He IS truth and that truth echoes from the beginning to end. He sees the redeemed-us, the satisfied-us, the awake-us (even if we are not quite there.) He calls our name to C’mon! further down the road with Him. To not get distracted by lesser things, but to press on towards the best thing.

I want to keep pressing on, to keep running towards the prize. Will you go with me? There’s more to be said, but I’ll wrap this up with John’s words below. We are invited to throw off everything that would take our eyes off of Christ…and thankfully, He doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, but to abide in Him. Jesus will show us the way, by His indwelling Spirit, and we’ll grow with Him. To Him be the glory!

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (1 John 2:26-28, ESV)


**This podcast episode gives great context for the letter written to the church at Colossae. And by the same professor, this very long video gives an overview of the Gnostic teaching that many scholars believe to be the subject that Paul was addressing (but the first 20-30 min is enough to gain some understanding.) For a shorter intro and a thoroughly enjoyable British accent, here is a quick video by N.T. Wright.

Published by Sara Beth Longenecker

Sara Beth Longenecker is a writer and blogger based in Nashville, TN. She helps women sort through the noise of our culture by bringing them truth, beauty, and everyday theology.

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