Let’s continue to ponder what we mean when we think and speak of mystery.” Mystery definitely points to something, but to something that is not immediately clear. It points to something that is clear precisely in a depth or an intensity or an immensity that makes its clarity hard to pin down. In this way, mystery” seems to open us up to … well, we don’t quite know what it opens us up to. To something exciting and stimulating, no doubt, but also to something challenging and perhaps a bit frightening. We do not know what is in store. And this is exactly where a fully Christian understanding of God should begin. 

Is the mystery of God simply an intriguing puzzle to be solved? I’ve rejected this possibility in earlier blog entries, but let’s investigate further. If the mystery of God is a puzzle, it refers to a state of affairs in which something is unknown and must be figured out, much like detective stories involving Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, or Sherlock Holmes. Detective mysteries are fun because at the beginning, we don’t have enough information to allow us to see the whole picture. We have certain clues, but they are not numerous or detailed enough to allow the sort of comprehensive explanation that would solve the puzzle, so that the true criminal can be arrested. 

To solve the puzzle, we (or the detectives) must do more investigating – and so we might refer to mystery in this sense as investigative mystery,” though the term is a little bit clumsy. The whole goal is to investigate and solve the puzzle, to know what actually happened, to find the person responsible for the body lying on the living room rug. By means of available clues and creative thinking, we attempt to solve the puzzle. Once we have gathered enough information, sifted through it carefully, and identified the culprit involved, the mystery disappears. We simply need to investigate carefully, draw insightful conclusions from the evidence presented, and poof! No mystery at all. The whole fascination of a detective story lies in trying to solve the puzzle, and when one knows the solution the mystery is dissolved – it is no longer a mystery; it has lost its mainspring. Clearly, as we seek to understand the mystery of God we will have to move beyond God as an investigative mystery. 

Biblical writers often speak of mystery as the revelation of a marvelous plan or purpose that God has revealed for creation. The emphasis on revelation is particularly significant, for in the Bible a mystery” is almost always something that God has made known. In the New Testament, for instance, Jesus speaks of the apostles as those who have been given the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11). Jesus is not saying that the apostles have been given a puzzle to solve or a question to answer. If anything, the mystery is the answer, so that the apostles are, so to speak, in on the secret.” 

It’s this biblically-based understanding of mystery that we’ll take a look at next. 

Catch up with all of Chris’s blog postings at Conversations with Chris.

This series has been adapted from Steven D. Boyer and Chris Hall’s The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable. Hungry for more? Please visit Baker Academic for more information.