Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Problem of Mystery

These woodland flowers, Trout Lilies, are plentiful in my garden and woods right now.

"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens--what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave--what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea." Job 11:7-9

Atheist Richard Dawkins contends that "the ultimate goal of science is to remove all mystery." I sometimes wonder, have we similarly reduced our faith journey to a mere discipline of study, as if by adding to our fund of observations and insights about God, we will eventually nail it? God now just another notch in our intellectual belt, one more mystery solved? Is it possible that the study of God, though earnest and sincere, might chip away at His infinity? Mystery annoys Dawkins, legitimating, for him, the role of science. For Dawkins, everything that can be known, must be.

What is our problem with mystery? Have we bought in to science's presumption that mystery must go?

We have become uneasy with mystery. Suspect of it, even. "Freedom of information!" we cry, citing our rights. Once given the facts, we then think "What aren't you telling us?" exposing a certain suspiciousness behind our questions. Mystery has become, for us, sinister and untrustworthy. We have made it so. And it is this sinisterization of mystery that has led us to agree with Dawkins' assertion that mystery is the enemy.

For the person of faith, however, mystery is not bad. I find myself agreeing with Leonard Sweet when he says, "If all you can trust and have faith in is the God you can comprehend and understand, then who are you worshiping?" (Soul Salsa)

Where does this leave mystery, then, for those who believe in God? Do we regard mystery as a tolerable necessity of faith, meekly accepting it as the way it is, neither objecting to it nor extolling it? Not knowing what to do, have we sent mystery to the time-out chair for awhile while we figure out what to do with it?

And if we promote mystery from neutral status (a facet of faith we see merely as unobjectionable) to a position of esteem (a celebrated tenet of faith), we must ask ourselves, what is the role of discovery in the journey of faith? Is the very endeavor counter to what we have just said is axiomatic to our faith? If so, dare we strive to know more?

On the other hand, what is intrinsically wrong with wanting to solve mystery? Is our opinion of God affected by how much we know about Him? "We live by faith, not by sight," we are told (2Cor. 5:7). But can sight influence faith?

And where does this leave us, knowing that our tiny, finite minds can never grasp all that is true about God? What can be known about Him and does He want us to know it? Might God melt under the heat lamp of human scrutiny, lessened just a bit with every piece of evidence revealed? Is God sweating it out, worried that we will someday have him pegged? If not... if God is beyond measure, dare we try to measure Him?

Or does God, in fact, want us to know more?

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