“Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.”
— Ephesians 6: 19-20
“Christ is both the mystery AND the solution. Paul references the mystery of our religion, the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of our faith and being stewards of the mysteries of God. Faith, apparently, does not necessarily make sense. It is a mystery. . .
“I love a good mystery.”
— United Methodist writer and lecturer Dan R. Dick
Christianity and the Bible have endured for thousands of years–and will endure–and not because of certainties about the Trinitarian God.
And not because God is The Great Answer Man who dropped the Bible out of the sky one day, granting us all the correct, pat answers to every moral question, ancient or contemporary, ever posed.
The Bible was written over centuries by men (what a different book it would be if women had been in on the process!) who were inspired by a God who is and was well known–while remaining totally and completely unknown.
We Christians live in “the cloud of unknowing” that is faith, believing in that which is real, and yet believing in things not seen. (Oh look! There went the Holy Spirit!” Did you see her?)
I always say that God is a mystery, but a magnificent mystery.
The United Methodist Rev. Dan R. Dick is a terrific author, lecturer and blogger whose latest posting at his blog United Methodeviations got my attention.
That’s because I, like Pastor Dan, love a good mystery.
And God is just the eternal best.
Here’s what the good reverend wrote:
Though I am not overly superstitious, I DO try to pay attention to unusual coincidences. Over the last three days, I have been led, in one way or another, to look up four passages of scripture: Ephesians 6:18-20, I Corinthians 4:1-2, Ephesians 1:7-10, and 1 Timothy 3:16. Each of these verses contain the Greek word musterion or secret/mystery. The apostle Paul spends a lot of time waffling back and forth between the mystery revealed and the mystery unknown. In both cases, though, Paul speaks of a reverence for something HUGE. Christ is both the mystery AND the solution. Paul references the mystery of our religion, the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of our faith and being stewards of the mysteries of God. Faith, apparently, does not necessarily make sense. It is a mystery. Why should God care about us? Mystery. Why doesn’t God just give up on us and metaphorically walk away? Mystery. Why should God loves us even in the depths of our sinfulness? Mystery? Why does it rain on the just and unjust alike? Mystery.
However, as humans are wont to do, we seem dedicated to erasing and eliminating any and all trace of mystery from our religion. We want to boil everything down to a dull paste that makes sense, is rational, reasonable, and rote. We displace faith with certainty, and any working of the Spirit with reductionist rules and regulations about who is in and who is out. We spend much more time judging than we ever have praying. We speak as if we understand God’s will and intention instead of humbly approaching the altar, seeking what God might mean instead. We state false declaratives about who is “born again” and who is “saved” and whom will go to heaven and whom to hell. Our self-righteousness outshines any righteousness God bestows.
The responsibility and demand of being a steward of God’s mysteries is huge, but the privilege and honor of such stewardship is amazing. To offer the mystery of the gospel to each other, think what that means. “Gospel” is an inadequate translation of euaggeliou or, evangelion — but its essence is spot on: GOOD NEWS. Some of the basic tenets of “good news” as espoused in the early Christian writings are incredibly powerful, though there are many today who would like to turn these tools of liberation into weapons of oppression:
— all have sinned, but God offers redemption and salvation through Jesus the Christ
— poor, ostracized, marginalized, oppressed will be vindicated and redeemed; those who oppress, judge, and condemn will be judged and condemned
— the full measure of our faith will be how we treat others, especially those who wrong us
— we are all here to serve one another; we are all gifted to serve one another
— love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are visible signifiers (fruits) of whether God guides us or not
— there is a place in God’s kingdom for all creation; God’s grace is larger than our brokenness
— no one is better than anyone else; no human being is holier or more deserving of God’s love than any other
— the way we treat others indicates how much we love God; no one can say they love God then ignore brother, sister, stranger or enemy; withholding help from a human is withholding help from God
This list could go on for pages and pages, but it is long enough to make most of us scratch our heads and say, “This doesn’t make sense!” And indeed it doesn’t. Not in the least. Mystery. This is the point. While we try to reduce faith in Jesus Christ and relationship to God and neighbor to a simplistic list of do/don’t, yes/no, righteous/sinful, in/out, us/them, straight/gay, white superior/black, red, yellow, brown magenta, fuchsia, chartreuse inferior, either/orness, God keeps it simple — this is none of our business. Judgment belongs lock, stock and barrel to God. Our job? Sow the seeds of love. Spread the good news of mercy, compassion, justice, hope, kindness, acceptance, and grace. Feed the positive and starve the negative. Invite every person you meet into the mystery — and continue always and every way possible to go deeper into the mystery yourself. Any faith that is simple to understand and that you can fully master in one lifetime really isn’t a faith worth believing in.
It is hard for modern Western minds to just go with the flow. We strive so hard to make sure everything makes sense. Knowing is often so important that we forget to understand. Meaning is much more important than truth. What meaning do we find for our lives? Do we find meaning in judging, hating, hurting, excluding, dividing, insulting and disrespecting those who disagree with us? Not much meaning in that. Do we find meaning in welcoming, creating, loving, appreciating, accepting, teaching, learning, and understanding those around us? A limitless pool of possibility, but only if we can trust, have faith, and embrace mystery. Those who know Christ have a great opportunity to embrace mystery, for we have been entrusted with perhaps the greatest mystery of all time — God so loved the world (and everyone created in it) that God gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. I love a good mystery.