WHAT IS MYSTERY, ANYWAY?
When we speak of the mysteries of existence, we're not usually talking about things such as Sock Heaven. Even if the whereabouts of a lost sock is one of the great enigmas of the universe. Generally, 'down-to-earth' is not what the people of today think of as 'mystery'. That's one of the big problems modern-day nouveau supernaturalists have with Christian spirituality - no matter how much of a mystery a Christian is dealing with, there's always the walking, talking, bleeding, executed Jesus to deal with, a Jesus whose very presence here was God's solidarity with the material that God created. If God, a spirit, didn't see material reality as something to shed or flee or pretend away or enshroud, then we, who were created by God to be material beings, have no cause to seek escape. To Christians, God isn't out to merge everything into some shapeless oneness that is everything but also nothing. God wants to have robust relationships with creatures that God created to be individual persons who live in all sorts of quasi-onenesses like families and societies. God loves the stuff that is you. God's intent is not a wipe-out of material reality, but a healing of it. God is out to change it so that it becomes what God had intended all along. God made it, and it was good. Material living, to a Christian, was good, will once again be good, and even now is shot through with good, even amidst its horrible ugliness and evil. Jesus will come back! God has made us all heirs to the promise made to Abraham, part of the same 'body', the same Kingdom of God. If you trust in that, then even the greatest of spiritual mysteries has a context that is not mysterious. This is the foremost of the mysteries of the faith.
In Christian belief, all is mystery, and yet nothing is ultimately a mystery. The purpose of that which is hidden has already been revealed. The character of the supernatural already shows forth in life in this material universe. We, who are participants in the celestial scene, are shaping our role in it through the mud of tangible living. God is with us! Stuff-ness is given honor by Christ's presence and given power by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Life, then, is both mysterious and a great gift to be grasped and lived.
We've been let in on the 'secret'. Now spread it around...
back to index
"Everything that's worthwhile in life is scary. Choosing a school, choosing a career, getting married, having kids -- all those things are scary. If it is not fearful, it is not worthwhile."
---- Paul Tournier
"You don't destroy the mystery of a rainbow by understanding the light processes that form it."
---- Anne McLaren
"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
---- Carl Sagan
"Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved."
---- Søren Kierkegaard
"Some things you can't find out; but you will never know you can't by guessing and supposing; no, you have to be patient and go on experimenting until you find out that you can't find out. And it is delightful to have it that way, it makes the world so interesting. If there wasn't anything to find out, it would be dull. Even trying to find out and not finding out is just as interesting as trying to find out and finding out, and I don't know but more so."
---- Mark Twain, *Eve's Diary*
"Married life requires shared mystery even when all the facts are known."
---- Richard Ford
"We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper 'mystery'."
---- A.W. Tozer, *The Knowledge Of the Holy* (Harper, 1961)
"Mystery is in the morning, and mystery in the night, and the beauty of mystery is everywhere; but still the plain truth remains, that mouth and purse must be filled."
---- the character Mark Winsome, in Herman Melville's *The Confidence Man*
"There is no event so commonplace but that God is present in it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him. Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the heavenly and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."
---- Frederick Buechner
ARE WE GODS?
Part of us wants to believe that we can become gods, that somehow we can in our very nature become mighty enough so that no harm can be forced on us and those we deem to protect. Part of us wants to be more than what we really are. In a way, it's natural that we seek that. It's an almost-genetic-level recognition that we were designed to be more than we are (see Ecclesiastes 3:11). Yet it's a horrible evil in most other ways, because our typical reaction to that instinct is to try to bluff our way to greatness. The efforts inevitably exaggerate and distort us, warping us like comic ink on Silly Putty as the putty gets stretched, garbling us like a scrambled video signal. We can make ourselves greater in some important ways, but in the process and at the same time, we also make ourselves worse. There's no secret about this 'mystery'. Ever-higher highs give us ever-lower lows. The warpage is in the very root of us. You can't go into yourself far enough to escape it, for it's in there deeper than you're able to go. We humans abuse and murder those we love, make peace but build A-bombs, offer greater mobility and slums, make for greater diversity and ethnic cleansing, create unparalleled wealth for some but deep poverty for billions of people, cause unprecedented levels of social participation and a growing sense of social cynicism. There's not much new about it except today's more potent technology and with it, a greater urge to push everything to extremes. Our fallenness makes such paradoxes possible, and we're too caught up in it to put life back into balance.
Ultimately, it takes Someone greater than ourselves to make us greater than what we are. And God aims to do just that! The One who created us with the ability to choose, the One who we told where to go as we marched off to distort ourselves long ago -- that is the One who didn't quit on us. This is the mystery of Christian faith, that God loves us so much that whatever it took to bring us out of the grinder our paradoxes put us in, God would do it. Even if that meant being executed at our hands. God is the supreme mystery of the faith -- the ultimate mystery of all existence.
back to the Beginning....
Delve Into the Mysteries
- A college professor once told me that a mystery is merely something we give up on understanding. Another professor told me that a mystery is something so all-encompassing and so complex that it's too much for our minds. One of my school teachers told me it's something we ought not try to understand, but take note of how it affects everything else. How worthwhile is each statement, as you see it? In what ways? Why?
- When you realize that you've run across something mysterious (assuming you have, at some point), what did you feel? For example, frustration? relief? confusion? resignation? fear? a sense of discovery? of inadequacy? a state of panic? of awe?
- How easy or difficult is it for you to hold off on exploring a mystery once you've started?
- Do you agree or disagree with the idea that God wants us to know the key to the mysteries of existence? Why/why not? How does that affect your spiritual life?
- What has brought God's presence or purpose to you? Write down what you're thinking, and how you could tell God was involved.
- What is your favorite mystery -- the one that keeps getting your attention, the one you keep going back to and keep probing?
- Many mysteries of the faith are quite mundane in how they affect life. (Remember, life itself is a mystery, and so is each person's.) But there are also some that are very strange, even bizarre. Which one comes to mind when you read that? In what way is it strange, maybe even twisted?