The Mystery Card

by Mike Duran · 18 comments

Everybody has one of these. It’s the card you play when you run out of answers, when Life’s mysteries overwhelm you, when your educated guesses bump into the Unknown. It’s the answer you resort to when you’re out of answers.

Everyone has a Mystery Card. Theologians, scientists, mathematicians, doctors — all encounter mysteries. Whether it involves gravity, cellular replication, particle physics, or orbital mechanics. Whether it’s why humans act the way they do, why humans don’t act the way they should, and where humans go when they’ve stopped acting altogether. Everybody must admit there are things they just can’t explain.

  • Why does a patient suddenly wake from a 3-year coma?
  • How can Jesus be BOTH God and Man?
  • How is DNA encoded?
  • Can we know anything with absolute certainty?
  • Why do children from the same family turn out so different?
  • Why do smart people do stupid things?
  • What is dark matter?
  • If God is sovereign, do humans really have free will?
  • How did the Universe begin?
  • Does the Universe have boundaries and, if so, what’s beyond them?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Why can’t we tickle ourselves?

Sorry. I just threw that last one in there for levity. πŸ™‚

Point is, everybody has a Mystery Card. I don’t care who you are, how educated you are, how decorated you are, how many books you’ve read, or how many Twitter followers you have… at some point you must play the Mystery Card.

Christians play the Mystery Card a lot. Ask one about the problem of pain, why God put Satan in the Garden, how God can exist in Trinity, and where He was before the Universe existed, and they’ll probably play the Mystery Card. Yes, this can be a cop-out. This can be an excuse for mental laziness… and it often is. But the truth of the matter is, non-Christians play the Mystery Card as much as Christians.

Atheists, astronomers, astrophysicists, and air guitarists all resort to the Mystery Card at some point. You see, even if you believe that Science has the tools to explain everything, the truth is a.) It hasn’t and b.) It’s still faith in an ever-changing system, handled by highly-evolved apes, constructed upon a series of presuppositions, that you’re banking on.

Sounds risky, eh?

Frankly, this is one thing I love about the Bible. It pulls no punches regarding mystery. As human beings, we are NOT entitled to know everything. This strikes to the core of our problem. I mean, why do we believe that our little brains, or any system of scientific or intellectual tools we have developed, are even capable of comprehending… EVERYTHING?

It’s the height of hubris to believe you don’t need a Mystery Card.

And perhaps that’s the big difference. The real issue is not whether we need a Mystery Card, but how we play it.

Nicole August 4, 2011 at 9:48 AM

‘Tis true.

Jessica Thomas August 4, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Are we highly evolved apes, or did God form us as we are out of dust? And while monkeys have evolved, God saw to it that we never branched?

Heh heh. I touched on this in my Monday post, wherein I am a bit snarky with the Creation Museum. My post was critical of Christians who don’t play the mystery card enough, but want clean answers, whether those answers go against solid scientific evidence or not.

By the way, “Does the universe have boundaries?” And what’s outside of those boundaries? Don’t even go there. My four-year-old mind grappled with that question quite unsuccessfully and unsatisfactorily. Not to mention…”What is forever?” In my little mind, I thought of a river going on forever and ever, never stopping. It made no sense. Just not possible.

Great, now I’m going to have nightmares again. πŸ™‚

No really, there are so many mysteries, and since I am one of those who wants *answers*, I find solace in Jesus, knowing the answers to those questions are his domain, not mine. When I get scared by these unanswerables, I just imagine myself snuggling safely in his lap, because that’s a concept I can grasp.

R. L. Copple August 4, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Mystery is a given when it comes to God. I mean, we’re talking about a being who created time and stands outside it as well as in it. Can you imagine an existence without time? Who sees all points of our time as it happens in one glance? Infinite existence.

Meanwhile, we are finite, and cannot see beyond our own noses half the time. Yes, people can become theologically lazy by playing the mystery card whenever their theology conflicts. So how does one know where mystery begins and what we can know/define end?

I’ve always said mystery is the intersection of the infinite with the finite. That is what God does. He invades the finite. Shouldn’t be possible. Shouldn’t mix, like oil and water. But He became a finite man in a finite world, yet still had infinite existence and didn’t become any less who He was as God. Anytime that happens, you will have mystery. That’s why subjects like the Incarnation are described in the councils not by defining them, but what they are not: Fully God, fully man, without separation, division, mixture or confusion.

Impossible, you say? From our perspective, yes. But it didn’t originate with us. We can’t even imagine what God’s existence is like. How can we imagine or figure out how an infinite God can create finite man and then enter into that world, and still remain infinite?

If no one can imagine or comprehend what God has in store for us in heaven as Scripture tells us, how much less can we expect to figure Him out with our finite theology.

Chris August 4, 2011 at 1:32 PM

“Hubris” is a great word to describe the scientific community’s notion about not needing a mystery card. We have made great scientific advances. We’re very proud of ourselves. So we give each other high-fives and assume we can understand EVERYTHING. It’s short-sighted, arrogant, drunk, rubbish.

Katherine Coble August 4, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Mystery has become a dirty word in the modern church, which frustrates me.

Because Christianity is a Mystery religion.

I was reading Becky Miller’s blog about it the other day and she crystallises some of why the church bristles when someone says “mystery” and ‘Mystic’. It seems that people assume that Mystery means that we are uncertain of Christ and Salvation.

Not the case at all. But I also know that we know exactly what we need to know, and the rest of it is mystery. A mystery God invites us to partake, because the human mind loves the exercise of mystery. If it didn’t there wouldn’t be mystery novels and detective shows and speculative fiction.

Mystery is one of the children of linear time. There are a lot of things we won’t find out until we get there. And that’s not a bad thing.

The thing about Christian Mysticism that I find so compelling is that it reminds me very much of my earthly marriage. There is a safe starting point, the security of knowing you are fully loved and redeemed, and then the adventure of getting to know more along the journey. Coming to know God better.

It’s what is meant when we talk about having an active prayer and devotional life.

It’s not a bad or harmful thing at all and in no way negates the fundamental truths of the Gospel.

Fred Warren August 5, 2011 at 7:46 AM

I love watching Mike and Becky play theological ping pong. πŸ™‚

Sally Apokedak August 5, 2011 at 12:05 PM

ha ha Where’s the danged “like” button when you need it?

Lewinna August 4, 2011 at 4:43 PM

I got into the Vedic scriptures and tradition, and found the answers to every question. It is so much information that I am not sure I could know it all. Still, it is a completely self-consistent system, with God at its center, and I’m intrigued by the fact that it DOES explain everything. I don’t know what the implication of that is, but it is compelling. Mystery may actually lie not in ignorance but in our own finiteness approaching the unlimited qualities of God. One can always go deeper, with God. He never runs dry or gets stale. Maybe we don’t need to be ignorant about how the universe works–maybe it would help if we weren’t.

Katherine Coble August 4, 2011 at 8:17 PM

Really? That wasn’t my experience of Vedic teaching. I realise that the Vedas sort of put out there that they contain all the answers to the Mysteries of Life, but as you read further the answers aren’t anything more than well-articulated suppositions.

It would sort of be like me saying “Oswald killed Kennedy acting alone. There’s your answer.” Yes, it is an answer. It is a widely-accepted answer to an increasingly baffling mystery. But just because a lot of people THINK it’s the right answer and SAY that it is the right answer over and over again doesn’t mean that the mystery is solved satisfactorily.

In fact, to presume to understand all the mysteries is a sign of ignorance. Because there is not any way possible for the human brain to hold all the knowledge that exists. No more possible than to fit the Pacific Ocean in a paper cup.

Vedic teaching excels at holding up the paper cup and saying “here is the entire Pacific Ocean. If you believe that, you are WISE. If you don’t, you are foolish and cannot handle knowledge.”

Lewinna August 4, 2011 at 9:04 PM

That’s the other piece–the Vedic system has an answer and explanation for everything in the material world, explanation of the soul, God, material nature & universe, material activities, and time, and all their relationships to one another–whether or not you choose to ACCEPT that explanation as being truth. I have not yet found anything they could not describe satisfactorily (at least to me, with my particular experiences), so, I was impressed, however, just because it is a totally self-consistent system that has answers and does not claim ignorance on anything, does not necessarily mean that it is true.

As you say, just because people SAY a thing is the answer, and THINK it is, but don’t adequately explain it, doesn’t really mean much. The thing I like about the Vedas is that they explain things–and whether or not it is merely a well-articulated and self-consistent supposition, or the way things actually are, is a different question.

In which case, if it is not the way things are, where did it come from and who came up with it? I always find that that is a helpful question to ask regarding any explanation for anything. Where did this explanation come from and who came up with it? Often, based on our knowledge of the context and history of such a thing, we can make somewhat of a reasoned decision about whether or not to accept it as true…

Tim George August 5, 2011 at 5:11 AM

I am going to resist engaging in an apologetic response concerning writings that are foundational to the Hindu system so definitive that it has spawned millions of “so-called gods” in order to “explain all things.”

Instead I just mention two Scriptures that speak directly to what Mike has presented:

β€œThe 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.” – Deut 29:29

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Col 1:27

The intersection of finite and infinite is Jesus Christ. Katherine is right about our seeming unwillingness to embrace certainty and mystery. I do not understand the Trinity and have long since ceased trying to explain what I do not understand. But I see the truth of it throughout God’s Word and in my own experience and embrace it by faith. Having said that, I am quite sure an hour from now I will pause in wonder again the mystery of it all.

Lewinna August 5, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Yes, I agree that it is not necessary to know everything (or even necessarily much of anything) to follow the greatest commandments He gives.

β€œI am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
β€œI am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

This verse is talking so much more about a RELATIONSHIP than about any base of knowledge. Knowledge certainly HELPS a relationship; this knowledge that Jesus gives us in this verse is excellent knowledge that helps us know the One upon whom all our action and fruit is dependent.

To answer your statement about the demigods and the various practices associated with them (which have an explicit and material purpose): Vedic literature is full of prescriptions for far more than attainment of salvation and a proper relationship to God, and people from all walks of life follow the prescriptions according to their goals (which may have nothing to do with God). This multiplicity of desires is what spawns the demigod worship, not any attempt to “explain all things”. It must be understood that many of the things explained in the Vedic literature are wildly different and more complex than we might assume for a religious system–other religions of which have as their sole purpose the aim of surrender to God, and not understanding how the entire material nature operates and how one can attain material goals within it–and it is a lot, and it is impossible to evaluate or sift through to what we are looking for (the actual process of surrendering to the Supreme Lord and Creator) on a cursory glance.

I would love to have an apologetic discussion, because I get very intrigued by these things (and I am curious about the possibilities of how helpful such intensive knowledge of the material world could be to one’s relationship to God…), but this is probably not the place. It is probably obvious that I have always had a strong interest in other religions and how they think about things, and the Vedic religion has always very much impressed me.

To rest in the awe and majesty of God and who He is, that is the greatest gift and blessing! And to have a hundred little reminders, little practices, devotionals, to constantly remind oneself of Him throughout the day… that is my greatest joy. Offering Him my meal before I eat it, for example, allows the sanctification of an otherwise mundane activity. I don’t don’t need to be holding great reams and chains of philosophical understanding to be able to do that. I simply act in love, and there is so much more I gain from this.

Rebecca LuElla Miller August 6, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Where IS that like button? πŸ˜€

Rebecca LuElla Miller August 6, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Just to be clear, I intended the LIKE button for Tim’s post. I assumed my comment would post directly under his.

Jill August 5, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Mystery is beautiful. I love mystery. However, the very nature of what it is calls me to look for answers. For me, I find that looking for the answers is satisfying enough, even if I never find ultimate truth. Omniscience is a beautiful, holy ideal. I know I will never attain it, but why stop trying? My brain is wired, therefore, with a strange dilemma: there is no ultimate truth, yet I’m going to search for it. I thank God that he provided me with the truth of salvation at a very young age, or I would be lost in all the conundrums that face me every day. I would have nothing to cling to at all. My soul would never be at rest.

Rebecca LuElla Miller August 6, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Just curious, Mike. Do you see a difference between mystery and transcendence?

Becky

Bob Avey August 7, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Good post, Mike. I’ve always found it humorous that those who subscribe to the Big Bang theory are so confident they have it all figured out. They don’t. The theory still doesn’t solve the infinity problem. Where did the gas cloud come from and what was it made of. Where did it explode into, space? What was there before space?

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