What’s your favorite mystery novel or movie? Maybe you’re a fan of a classic like Rear Window, or you like a good M. Night Shyamalan thriller. The longest running drama on TV, Law and Order, is a who-done-it, with twists and turns meant to keep us guessing. You may have attended a murder mystery dinner theatre, like the one our youth had a couple years ago. My three year old Loves when I hide and surprise him. And who doesn’t enjoy a good surprise birthday party? Mystery is part of the reason we wrap presents.
But are surprise and suspense and mystery all the same? They at least all have elements of mystery: they rely on the unknown. But the majority of what we refer to as mystery is only tangentially related to mystery, kind of like the beauty aisle at Walgreens is only a little bit related to beauty as an attribute of God.
Most of what we refer to as mystery is really only suspense. And here’s why. Suspense is the moment before we find out the answer. That there is an answer is never in doubt. This assumption that there is an explanation for everything is how we have imagined our world ever since the 18th century and the Enlightenment. We presume science can solve any problem. We just have to learn enough to be able to make the right choices or create the right vaccine or use the right tool or follow the right diet.
We’ve also imagined our Christianity this way. If we just know God enough, we’ll be able to make the right choices. WWJD bracelets were based on this. But not yet knowing how to do something is not the same as mystery. Not yet knowing something that can be known is suspense. True mystery is the things that cannot be explained.
God is not an answer to a problem.
God is not achievable. God will not be controlled. Or understood. Or comprehended. God is a mystery and will always be a mystery. After we die we won’t “get” God. We won’t suddenly comprehend God. We will forever grow into the unknown, forever be surprised by more newness and more life and more love. And who doesn’t love a good surprise?
What I want to suggest today is that mystery is not just something to be endured until we get to the answer. Mystery is a way of experiencing the unknowable. Suspense can cause a great deal of anxiety or fear. But mystery doesn’t have to do that.