The Grace of Being Taught This Mystery
The gospel does not merely answer our questions. God is not merely gracious enough to provide closure to our lingering curiosities or our self-identified problems. God goes one step further in showing us the true character of our need and the real shape of our happiness. Revelation from God involves not merely the giving of answers but the relocation and redefinition of our very questions.
Mystery, then, is a gift and a revelation. It is a gift because we tend toward such mundane views of things. John Calvin told us that our hearts were “a perpetual factory of idols,” and he meant that we easily imagine God to take the form of the familiar. We identify God with power—maximal power—in its normally experienced creaturely form (which is seemingly dog-eat-dog). But we have to be taught that our understanding of power must be reformed when applied to God so that it is “strength . . . made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The mysterious character of God is His uniqueness over against the posers, the powers, and the principalities. And God’s people need to be reminded of this as well, for we can so easily presume the idols of this evil age and the ideals of our sin-sick hearts. We, too, need not merely to resist conformity to the patterns of the world but also to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
For these reasons, the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck would say that “mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics.” Mystery, for him, provided vitality to theological knowledge. It was not a point to give up in despair or cynicism. It was not an excuse to cease reading Scripture and prayerfully pursuing wisdom. Mystery—the divine mysteries of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the God revealed therein—actually brought strength and nourishment for each and every part of the theologian. As we seek the mind of Christ with regard to our beliefs and our desires, our goals and our comforts, our questions and our answers, we find that there is life and strength there when we turn again and again to that wonderful story that is so strangely glorious in its display of grace and mercy. We find living hope there in the blessedness of the God who raised Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). This mystery provides, again and again, the best and most satisfying of ends.
The Ideal Readers of This Mystery
Mystery writers sometimes speak to the ethics of a good detective yarn. A good mystery cannot be manipulative, for instance, but must bring its reader to a conclusion that, while surprising, still sits coherently with the data and drama of the previous acts. We may and should reflect upon the ethics of biblical mystery: How do we read it well in a way that befits its glory and goodness?
First, we remember that we are but pilgrims like Moses and Paul or the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. We are being brought on a journey by God’s grace that leads unto glory. But we have not yet arrived at our final destination. While we have been told the final riddle ahead of time, we still long to see the risen Jesus burst forth before us in all His beauty and glory. Thus, the reader of this mystery and the theologian of the gospel walk humbly before the living and true God. God is to be taken with utmost seriousness; our own judgments are not taken quite so seriously.
Second, this humility does not lead to cowardice but actually instills confidence and boldness. Our humility is in our perception of things, not in the reality or the goodness of our God. Knowing His transcendent glory does show us how far we fall short, yet it much more deeply assures us that He is capable of revealing Himself, or raising us anew, of delivering us complete unto our heavenly Father. So, ultimately seeing and savoring the mysterious glory that is God’s alone gives us deep and abiding hope even in the face of personal failures or earthly disappointments. Because God is different from us, we can have hope even in the face of our stumbling.