Sometimes we think that the most important thing in Christianity is what we know and understand. We place huge emphasis on having the “right” theology, being able to explain and make sense out of difficult Bible passages and so on. We are tempted to believe that everything can be explained, that we can understand every explanation, and that anything that “doesn’t make sense” must not be true.
In fact, there are things we don’t know, there are things we can’t know, and there are things we think we know but are actually completely wrong about. This is true in daily life, and even more so in spiritual life. When we encounter the limits of what we can know with our minds we enter into Mystery.
Not knowing everything is normal for humans. Even Jesus had limits to what he knew. He once told his disciples that only the Father knew when the end would come (Mark 13:32). And Jesus suffered with the pain of an unanswered question on the cross when he cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Paul reminds us that at least for the time being “…we see through a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
If our faith relied on what we know we would be in trouble indeed. Mystery reminds us that our faith is not about knowledge but trust. It’s one thing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead – to hold that statement as true. It’s quite a different thing to believe in Jesus as someone you trust.
Embracing Mystery and accepting that our knowledge is always limited and imperfect can relieve us from the fears and anxieties about not “getting it right.” In fact, this is one of the things we trust Jesus for: not only are we forgiven for our sins, but also for our false, mistaken and misunderstood beliefs. Released from these fears we are able to “hold loosely” our ideas about faith and life and be ready to learn more. This also encourages us to speak with humility about what we believe to be true, and listen with openness to the ideas of others. Acknowledging Mystery helps us to resist the temptations of intellectual pride.
Embracing Mystery can also help us to set aside our questions when there are more important things at hand than just understanding. In John 9 Jesus encounters a man blind from birth. His disciples and the religious leaders are fixated on the theological questions. Jesus sees the man as a person, not as a case study, and heals him. We may want to wrestle endlessly over questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Mystery reminds us to consider whether getting answers is really more important than giving help to someone in need.
1 Corinthians 2; 1 Corinthians 8; Romans 11:33-34; Ephesians 3; Job 38