The desire for mystery

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The movie opens on a pile of top hats in a forest.

A man explains the 3 steps of a good magic trick. And the real story begins, the story that happened before all this. We meet the black box that duplicates anything. Top hats. Cats. People. You wonder: How can this possibly end well? And yet, the ending, ambiguous and uncertain like that of many recent movies, somehow satisfies. It’s designed not to let us figure it out. We’ve seen a mystery and we love to try to pick it apart, even when we know we won’t be able to.

Of course, not knowing can be frustrating. Spiritually, we often want God to come right out and dazzle us, confront us with a powerful display. We’ve heard stories of him doing that, famously. But he remains concealed and we’re forced to search. He wants to be invited. No forcefulness on his part. He wants our faith.

There’s something in the searching that’s like breathing. A longing he wants us to experience. It grows beyond what any of us could have anticipated through the tension of never quite reaching that full reveal. In Sex God, Rob Bell says there’s something to be protected in marriage, and when we don’t protect it, the mystery goes out. In a similar way, you may have sensed God preserving your faith with mystery, respecting the relationship. Honoring the intimacy with modest restraint.

I’ve heard many well-intentioned Christians try to prove the resurrection, defending biblical accounts against doubters. Something gets missed in these sermons. I don’t think the point is to prove anything, as if we can. I think the point is to preserve belief. Denouncing supposed “certainties” of science—Da Vinci Code, the lost tomb, or whatever—that certainly helps preserve belief. But purporting to “prove” the gospel account, is to my way of thinking, misguided.

Maybe this resurgence of ambiguity in stories is evidence of something deeper at work. Maybe we’re longing for mystery. I believe artists and writers are more naturally in tune with this—whatever you want to call it—the zeitgeist, the collective unconscious, the modern spiritual climate. Where does that desire for mystery come from if not from God, who waits for us to listen to give us the hidden words of creation? We sit still and we listen and we trust. And the words show up.

Think about it. Even those who have seen miracles have to trust what they saw. Everything requires faith. Even truth has different expressions, angles, translations. So seeking the mystery of God, rather than the assurance of concrete answers seems so much more compelling to me. As a writer, I want to watch for serendipitous connections and dig deeper when I see one. A hunch, a feeling that you need to investigate, mention something, make a change. I want to seek that out. And God promises that when I do, I will find what I seek. It really does work. Give it a shot sometime. Then sit down and tell us about it.

I’m relatively certain this desire for mystery will only continue to grow in a culture hell-bent on naked exposure. Wonder is to faith as meaning is to truth. The mystery of God allows for endless exploration.

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10 thoughts on “The desire for mystery”

  1. Interesting thoughts, Mick. For me, the mystery part of our faith is difficult because I have such a desire to be in control. And yet, if I step back and allow myself to be in awe and wonder of who God is, I might enjoy the mystery that much more. It might serve as a motivator rather than a frustration. When I allow mystery to call me into deeper exploration, then I naturally grow closer to God. I’ll have to ponder this a little more this weekend…

  2. If I knew everything God had in store for me, I’d be a goner for sure. His grace and mercy are in full glory as He shows me only glimpses–I mean, I’m three quarters of the way to insane right now. Imagine what I’d be like if I knew what He had planned.

  3. Thank you, Mick. I’m glad you wrote on this topic. This is where I have been living lately. Maybe that’s because when the concrete stuff of my life crumbled (and along with it my false sense of control), all that was left was mystery.
    It is a terrifying and beautiful place. And a wonderful place for writers. The tease of God is full of restless truth – the sort of indescribable stuff that longs to be described. I am compelled toward a God too big to understand. I suppose the mystery can be an unsettling place at times, but doesn’t “not knowing and yet seeking to know” carve in us a wonderful sacred space in which the Holy Spirit can move and work?

  4. Thanks for this, Mick. I distrust neat little formulas for faith even more than I distrust neat little formulas for writing. Several of my recent posts on Master’s Artist (including yesterday’s) have touched on our calling to explore God’s mysteries. We’ll never reach their end, but that’s all the more reason to press forward. Every day is a new adventure, forever and ever, Amen.
    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Ah, yes. Would we have it any other way? If He weren’t beyond our reach, why would we ever be inspired to grow wings?

  5. Hi Mick, I’m Madison’s friend and pastor. I thoroughly enjoyed this post; it sparked life in me, especially the last two sentences:
    “Wonder is to faith as meaning is to truth. The mystery of God allows for endless exploration.”
    I’ve been a Christian 30 yrs, a pastor for 20 and I’m through with a wonder-less faith. The past few years have reawakened me to the truth that God is so much bigger than previously thought. When teaching our courses on dream interpretation I love to quote Proverbs 25:2
    “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”
    It’s the way of intimacy, it’s the way of love, it’s the way of the Bridegroom and the Bride. It’s the way of God.
    Personally, I discovered that a secure eternity is insufficient for my journey however; the experience of awe and wonder as I explore the fullness of the freedom… now that has made my faith journey exhilarating!

  6. The mystery of God allows for endless exploration.
    ~~
    Man, I have this urge to stick that on a tee shirt. Of course, it would be a very mysterious and ambiguous tee shirt. And I’d wear a top hat with it.
    Mir

  7. It seems to me that when I sit to write, I start off with one concept and then Lord would show up and it ends in something else. I love the freedom of expression I have through His Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter the subject, I somehow try to find HIm in it.
    I enjoyed reading this post, the last two lines especially were great;
    Wonder is to faith as meaning is to truth. The mystery of God allows for endless exploration.

  8. Beautiful, Mick. I love the mystery of how the Creator of the Universe can rejoice over us with singing, Zephaniah 3:17, and even says “Don’t cry” when we hurt. Luke something, the funeral at Nain. He is so amazing, mysterious, awesome, loving….

  9. Mick,
    I don’t think readers like mystery as much as we think they do, especially if that mystery comes from ambiguity.
    I spent a good deal of last year reading popular Christian novelists. One of the things that struck me more than anything is the constant need for them to explain every little thing, as if the reader doesn’t have enough imagination to fill in the blanks.
    Most of the works I’ve written in the last year don’t explain everything that happens, or the motivations or skills in a certain character. When people read my works, they get flustered when I leave purposeful holes. They want to be told every reason why.
    I find that bothersome because it points to a huge lack in imagination within the Christian community. If people can’t read between the lines so that the writer has to explain everything, we’ll never write works that garner critical praise from secular critics for the sole reason that secular readers seem far more sophisticated in their ability to live with ambiguity. They actually thrive on filling in the blanks. I’ve not found that same sense of wonder in Christian readers and that troubles me greatly.
    It’s as if we’ve inculcated through the way we do church here in America a feeling that God can only be grasped if we grasp all of Him at once. This not only diminishes God, but cripples our ability to wander in wonder around the edges of the mysterious. The unknown loses its luster in a fit of pragmatic reasoning.
    None of this bodes well for Christian authors exploring realms of thinking that stretch the reader. Perhaps this is why speculative fiction fails to capture significant marketshare in Christian circles.

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