We’ve thought too highly of ourselves for far too long. From the Enlightenment in the 18th century to the technological advancements of this century, we’ve often confused motion with progress. Truth is, in some ways, our incessant motion has created more problems than progress. Albert Einstein said, “The world we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them.” Einstein was not pointing to the need for more ideas but instead, to the need for a brand new ideology. For the last 300 years, we’ve erected monuments of intellect and technology and most of us have worshiped at their altars. But something is changing. The old paradigms are losing their stranglehold on us and we are beginning to embrace a new ideology – one driven by a predilection for wonder, awe, and mystery. Ours is a generation less concerned with concise answers and more interested in the often slow, deliberate process of unveiling. Mystery is frightening but lovely and we are inexplicably drawn to the vast unknown of God.
The New Testament understanding of mystery is a bit different than ours today. In the Greek, the word for mystery is mysterion (μυστήριον). Mysterion finds its roots in the Greek word mystes, which means initiate. The first century audiences of the New Testament writers would have understood mystery as that which could only be initiated and revealed by another. Someone else would have to allow you access into the mystery in order for you to grasp it. Mystery in the New Testament was not to be understood as a sort of Sherlock Holmes story, to be be figured out and solved with self-intellect or intuition. Rather, the mystery of God is introduced and initiated by another. Namely, it must be revealed by God himself.
There is a wonderful story found in Matthew 17. Jesus asks his friends what people are saying about him. Specifically, he asks them who people are saying he is. The responses vary. John the Baptist. Elijah. Jeremiah. Another one of the prophets. But Simon Peter responds differently: “You are the Messiah. The Son of the living God.” Jesus then responds this way: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” This is how the mystery of God works. It is revealed to us. We don’t ever figure it out on our own and so we can never claim to own it. The mystery owns us.
I have a friend who came to know God in a strange way. She was taking a walk one day and heard sounds coming from an Episcopalian church nearby. On a whim she walked inside. The congregation was taking the Eucharist and she was invited to participate. Yes, she broke the oh-so-evangelical rule of only taking communion if you’re “saved”. But the moment she ate the bread and drank the wine, she began to weep. This lifelong atheist had a conversion experience with stale bread, cheap wine and a room full of strangers. She explains the epiphany she had in that moment this way: “The requirement for faith turned out not to be believing in a doctrine, or knowing how to behave in a church, or being the right kind of person, or being raised correctly, or repeating the rituals. The requirement for faith seemed to be hunger. It was the hunger that I had always had and the willingness to be fed by something I didn’t understand.”
Everyone hungers and thirsts for God. Every human on earth. Most don’t know that this insatiable desire within is for God and so they try to satisfy themselves with all sorts of things. But it is God we are all desperate for and only he can satisfy. And none of us will ever understand him completely. Luckily, God isn’t interested in our understanding of him. He is only interested in our love for, trust in, and commitment to him. So my hope today is that we’d all sink deeply into the vast unknown of God and enjoy the journey as he reveals more and more of himself to us along the way.