Church Planter: Expect Mystery

Disconcerting though it may be, when it comes to God, we must expect mystery.

expect mystery

Disconcerting though it may be, when it comes to God, we must expect mystery. The great prophet Isaiah records these words from God Himself:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways…
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

God is infinite, and we are finite.

He is eternal and all-powerful and all-knowing; we are not.

Expect Mystery

If an exhaustive understanding of God were possible, then God would cease to be God, for if our minds could fathom all the mysteries of God, then God would be no greater than our minds. To expect mystery means to realize:

A mystery is not the same as a verbal puzzle, where core concepts are accessible but must be rightly understood. When the Bible maintains, for example, that we must die in order to live, the apparent tension dissolves with the understanding that it refers not to physical death but to death to a sinful spirit.   

A mystery is also distinct from agnosticism, where two contradictory ideas are given equal weight in the belief that evidence will eventually reveal one idea to be superior to the other.

Mystery stands apart from paradox as well, which is simply a contradiction accepted as truth. A “round square” would be a paradox.

A mystery is beyond rational explanation. It is not inherently self-contradictory; we just lack the ability to penetrate what an anonymous 14th-century spiritual writer called “the cloud of unknowing” that encircles it.

And there is a cloud. Consider God’s swift response to Job, who dared question the mysteries surrounding God’s actions as if the veil between humanity and God should not exist.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? 
Tell me, if you understand. 
Who marked off its dimensions?…
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place….
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep? 
Have the gates of death been shown to you?…
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? 
Tell me, if you know all this….
Surely you know….
You have lived so many years!…
Who endowed the heart with wisdom
or gave understanding to the mind?” …
Then Job answered the Lord: 
‘I am unworthy–how can I reply to you? 
I put my hand over my mouth. 
I spoke once, but I have no answer… I will say no more.’” (Job 38:4-5, 12, 16-18, 21, 36; 40:3-5, NIV)

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James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.