Embracing Mystery

Originally published Monday, 24 July 2017.

I participated in a reading challenge this summer. The challenge was to pick up a book whenever you would normally scroll through social media. I found myself reading more than I have in a long while. I went to the library and came home with a stack of books and took them with me everywhere: the boy's sports practices, the doctor's office, the hair salon, etc. 

One of the genres I haven't read in a long time, but have always loved, is mystery. In elementary school I loved Encyclopedia Brown. Until I discovered Nancy Drew. Then I read every variation and reincarnation of Nancy and her pals, George and Bess. In high school, I had a job at my local library and discovered Agatha Christie. I then read every Agatha Christie mystery the library owned.

So this summer, I found myself rediscovering my love of a good mystery. When I read a good mystery, I find myself searching for clues alongside the investigators in the book. My mind questions and evaluates all the details in an attempt to figure out who committed the crime before the characters in the book do. And I have that eventual "I can't believe it!" moment when the book finally reveals the culprit at the end of the story.

I think we all find mysteries intriguing. They pique our interest and curiosity, our love of problem solving. If not in storybooks, then certainly in real life. We like to find out what's behind a closed door. When someone has an unanswered question, we research it until it's answered. And I for one am grateful for the scientists who pursue medical mysteries until they are solved.

But there are some mysteries that will remain unanswered. Some mysteries we have to learn to live with. Some mysteries we have to learn to appreciate, accept, and even embrace.

Those mysteries are the mysteries of God's unrevealed will.

Theologians use the terms "revealed will" and "unrevealed will" to describe the things we can know and not know about God and his work in our life and world. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). 

We live according to God's revealed will, what he has given us in his word. The Bible tells us all we need to know to live and glorify God in our life. His word tells us what is wise and what is foolish. It shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. It instructs us in what we need to know about who God is and what he has done for us. 2 Peter tells us God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4).

The things we don't know are God's hidden will. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9. While we know Jesus will return one day to make all things new, we don't know when that will be. "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36). We don't always know why or how certain circumstances have occurred in our lives, though we know they will all turn out for our ultimate good and God's glory (Romans 8:28). There are even theological truths that may be too complex for our human and finite minds to fully grasp; we just have to trust and believe what God says about them.

Living in mystery means yielding and submitting to the One who does know the answers to all the unknowns. It is a place of humility in which we acknowledge that we are creatures and God is creator. It is a place of child-like trust and faith, knowing that God will do what is best, out of his perfect love for us. It is a place that embraces and even finds joy in knowing that we don't know everything but that God rules and reigns over all things. Nothing can stop his purposes and plans; all things will come to pass exactly as he has designed them to. 

"Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it." (Isaiah 46:8-11)

So while mysteries are fun to read and while many of the unknown things in the world will be discovered and answered by historians, scientists, and inventors, there are things we can't know and God will not let us know. And that place of mystery is a safe place. As we wait and watch for God to move, we can trust, hope, and rejoice that he alone is God. He will work wonders in his perfect time. And in eternity, we can look forward to unwrapping the layers and layers of mystery, learning more and more about our holy and all-knowing God.