We Love / Hate Mystery

Recently I heard Mark Batterson make this claim: We have a love / hate relationship with mystery.

The Reformers, like Calvin, wanted to protect mystery. Calvin highly discouraged even thinking about things that were not explicitly stated in Scripture. Then came the Enlightenment and the Age of Modernity, and faith became very linear and logical. But now, coming out from that age, we are once again encountering mystery and wondering what to do with it. And we don’t know.

We love mystery for the same reason we love to stand and look out at the ocean or at the edge of the Grand Canyon – all those things are a reminder that we can connect with something bigger and greater than we are. That connection, and that thing we connect with, is mysterious. It’s something we don’t fully understand because of it’s “other-ness.”

We hate mystery because anything mysterious is something we can’t control; it’s something we can’t dominate. And we don’t like things like that. There is a certain amount of fear and apprehension that comes along with mystery, if for no other reason than because we can’t manipulate mystery. 

And while we can’t manipulate mystery, I do think we can manipulate the idea of mystery. It does like this: “I don’t have to think about predestination, or the future of Israel, or how Abraham relates to Christ, or whatever, because that’s mysterious and since we won’t ever understand it, I don’t have to think about it.”


That line of thinking defeats the good mystery can do in our lives, because mystery is meant to be encountered, not ignored. It’s meant to be joyfully pushed into in an attempt to connect with the mysterious God behind is.

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  • liturgicsjay says:

    Maybe mystery is more like Jacob wrestling with the angel all night long.

    I really like your thoughts, and for me it begs the question, “how do we do mystery in worship?” It has to be more than candles and old art projected on the screen. How do our gatherings reflect the numinous aspect of the Divine? How do we wrestle with God in worship? Together?

  • Michael K. says:

    This is a worthwhile question. And while this surely isn’t a complete answer, I think a good part of it comes in the “how” we present our content, whether in music or preaching. I’ll talk about the preaching part, since I know jack about music.

    I think you can appreciate the mystery in preaching by trying to help people engage in the narrative of scripture, rather than simply doing a linear talk with three, easy points. Even the presentation can point to mystery.

    I don’t think that means we just stand up and declare God to be un-understandable, but if we can capture people’s imaginations, not just their wills, then I think we move toward embracing mystery.

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