Embracing Mystery

January 19, 2016

InSpero begins a series of guest contributions with board member and author Marjean Brooks. To read more from (and about) Marjean, go to her website.  

Photo by Bill Carroll
Photo by Bill Carroll

Everyone loves a good mystery.

Nothing engages the imagination like an intricately woven story without an obvious ending. We imagine possible outcomes until the final scene or page.

Who done it? Did he get the girl? Was justice served?

Years ago I learned from T. A. Noton in The Joy of Writing that a story was “an interesting combination of words which produce a problem, a deepening of that problem, a point at which the problem seems insurmountable, and a final solution to that problem to the complete satisfaction of the reader." We love the twists and turns of a plot line but, in the end, we want it tied up in a satisfying answer.

We don’t like to live with mystery.

So it’s no surprise we don’t want mystery in God’s story, either. We prefer a God who is easily explained. But that’s not the God of the Bible; once we have him figured out, another fact or circumstance contradicts our tidy conclusions. Our completed picture often feels like an intricate 1000-piece puzzle with one missing piece.

In one of my favorite stories in the book of Acts, the people of Athens constructed an altar with the words, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” In their pursuit of worshipping all deities, they added this tribute in case one was inadvertently missed. The apostle Paul came to their city and proclaimed the triune God as the “unknown God”—who became known through Jesus coming to earth. Paul explains Him as the creator of the universe, sustainer of life, ruler of nations, Savior of the needy, Father and King of all, and judge of the world. He clearly paints a portrait of a God who can be known.

Photo by Bill Carroll
Photo by Bill Carroll

Yet mystery is woven throughout the entire Bible. In the opening pages we read, “Let Us make man in our own image.” Why the plural? Mystery of Trinity. In the Exodus story, a pillar of cloud leads the Israelites by day and a pillar of fire by night. Mystery of Supernatural. In the books of the prophets, God chooses to judge one nation and forgive another. Mystery of Mercy. Between the New and Old testaments, four hundred years of silence exists between Malachi and Matthew. Mystery of Silence. God then chooses to speak in his Son, whom he sends as a baby born of a virgin. Mystery of Incarnation. God reveals that the hope of glory is Christ in us. Mystery of Indwelling.  Jesus inaugurates the Last Supper when believers feast on bread and wine signifying his body and blood. Mystery of Presence. Jesus dies and yet his tomb is empty. Mystery of Resurrection. In Revelation, Christ is seen as a glowing vision with white hair, flaming eyes, and a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, to judge and make all things new. Mystery of Restoration.

We become so familiar with these outrageous words and stories that we miss that from beginning to end, God’s story is bathed in mystery.

We prefer a predictable God-in-the-box who caters to our requests and follows our formulas. Sadly, when we eliminate all mystery, we lose all sense of awe and wonder.

Photo by Bill Carroll
Photo by Bill Carroll

The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us.” Jeremiah 29:29.

This verse brings me comfort. When we wrestle with unanswerable dilemmas, we can rest in the fact that “the Lord, He is God.” (I Kings 18:39) We discover the depths of his character to be loving, sovereign, and just—and relinquish what we cannot understand. We leave the secret things to God and pursue the things revealed.

And we choose to live with the tension of mystery, believing—one day—the story will be finished to our complete satisfaction.

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