“Mystery, for [the apostle] Paul, is not what is left over after we have done our best to reason things out. It is inherent in the very nature of God and his works” (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, (p. 271).
My favorite genre in fiction (and on TV) is mysteries: police procedurals, courtroom dramas, or just plain “who done it” stories. The fun, of course, is not only keeping up with various plot lines, but also trying to solve the mystery along with, or better yet, before the main character does. What is not fun is when I finish the book and don’t “get” the solution or feel as if it just doesn’t fit. I also am frustrated if some details are left hanging, perhaps because a sequel is planned.
I think that our human desire to know how and why everything all works out is the reason we struggle with seeing God described as mysterious, or, heaven forbid, “mystical.” Most of our doubts about God and how God works in the world come about because we don’t have all the details, and we NEED to understand everything before we will believe it. For example, the conflict between creationism and the theory of evolution is not just about interpreting the Bible literally; it is a failure of imagination. Richard Rohr helps us see the unnecessary battle between these two camps when he asks an imaginative question: “What if God creates things that continue to create themselves?”
The truth in the Peterson quote at the beginning of this post is stunning; he illuminates a major fallacy in our concept of faith. We don’t want to accept that we can’t understand everything about God. Peterson says that our faith should start, not end, with the idea that God is beyond our comprehension. Then, perhaps, we might not be so afraid of the mystery that surrounds God. We need to learn how to live comfortably with the fact (as Adam and Eve could not) that we will never know everything that God knows, nor will we ever be able to understand why some things happen, or how God works in his kingdom. Admitting that we do not know or understand does not equal doubting. It means we accept our limitations and trust our Creator.
An old but lovely metaphor for abiding in faith reminds us that if we look at a quilt in progress, we can see a beautiful pattern emerging. But if we turn it upside down, we see all the stitches and all the mistakes that happened in the creating of that quilt. We need to remember that life looks and feels like the underside of a quilt. We can imagine the beauty, but sometimes we only see the problems we can’t solve and the issues we don’t under- stand. Our hope lies in the mystery of a God who somehow sees that both sides are beautiful. Until then we must try not to make sense of every stitch or every unknown. We can rather live in the faith that God, the Quilt-maker, in all his mysterious creativity, is crafting something lovely.