Christian Mystery. What comes to your mind when you hear it? Is it an edge-of-your-seat night out at the theatres watching the latest thriller? The immensity of the galaxy, teasing us with its magnitude of wonders which man will never unlock? How about a pipe-smoking, deerstalker-hat-wearing man named Sherlock?
Mystery holds out to us the promise of scaling the mountain of our rational faculties to see the vista of the unknown – where we want to throw ourselves into the void, hoping we will see clearly. However, mystery has fallen on hard times.
In a New York Times opinion page, Robert Burton implicitly argues that there is no longer any room for mystery. The Scientific Method, coupled with advancements in neuroscience have rendered all human thought a product of chemical reactions in the brain. Rationality gets checked at the door of one of the universe’s most vast, closed systems: the human brain. Mystery has been crowded out of today’s dialogue.
What is the Christian response to Mystery?
Is it right for a Christian to speak of mystery, and if so how should we do it whimsically with our secular friends? Mystery, as it is most clearly seen on a theological basis occurs in several instances in Scripture.
One such instance is from Daniel 3:16-28. Three God-fearing men are accused of treason against the Babylonian state because they will not worship the golden image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. They stood before the King, where they were given one last opportunity to recant. They say,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
These men answer in such a way that puzzles us. They boldly claim that their God will deliver them, but if not, they will still not betray him by worshipping the image.
These men hold together a fundamental mystery in their response: God is sovereign and worthy of trust, yet at the same time God is personally interested in their welfare even if they cannot understand his purposes should He decide to destroy them. After they are thrown into the fire, the King exclaims,
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counsellors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
The God to whom these men pledged allegiance delivered them by sending one who is like “a son of the gods.” Many scholars will argue that this appearance, as well as many others like it in the Old Testament, is a manifestation of God, who is Christ Jesus.
Christ bridged the gap. These three men had no clue how God would or could deliver them, but he did – by standing with them in the furnace. They were delivered through fire by the inscrutable workings of an infinite God.
Jonathan Edwards writes that “we talk about mystery because we cannot see above the clouds”. For the Christian, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a word of truth which reaches down to man from high above the clouds proclaiming that God has come to save his people from their sins.
Paul tells us that the church is promised, “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 2:2–3).
Christ is better than knowledge simply because in Christ is the fullness of all wisdom and knowledge. Think of the distance between the purposes of a toddler and her 35-year-old parents. The parents do many things which are inscrutable to the child.
How much more is the distance between man and God? Nautilus, a science magazine published a fascinating article on how blind persons are able to engage in astronomy in a profound way. By using their heightened sense of hearing, they can use specialized equipment to conduct complex research and investigation into the starry night.
What a remarkable thing – those who are blind can see better than those who are well. The mystery found in Christ can only be found by those who realize they are blind and need to heed the good news proclaimed from above.
Yes, God is mysterious, but He has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Himself that all people be saved through Jesus Christ the saviour of the world.
By Mark Russell
Mind On Jesus