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. 

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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