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Why Is There Mystery?

March 10, 2023


Hollywood has captivated audiences for decades using mystery: the intricacies, the confusion, and best of all, the reveal. We are drawn to the twists and turns because they imply that there is a truth to be discovered. Along this journey, we are often met with surprise or even frustration when the truth revealed is far from what our imagination had dreamt up. Curiously enough, when we apply this logic to how we encounter spiritual mysteries, our response is quite different. Instead of pining for the next bit of the mystery, there is a level of fear that arises in us. The phenomena of our faith become something that we may avoid or consider to be roadblocks. However, we should be as captivated by the Mystery of God as we are by the newest Hollywood film. How are we to achieve this?

I propose that the pathway to loving the Mystery of God is through embracing it, and before we can embrace it, we must know it. Mystery is critical to understanding the divine, yet many of us would fail in explaining what it is and why God saw fit for it to exist. So, before we can dive into the purpose of God’s Mystery, we must start simply by defining what it is. Once we properly understand the definition of Mystery in the context of God, we can then go outward and draw others into it with us. Though human reason’s instinct may be to reject Mystery, it will also be our greatest asset in ensuring we have robust and insightful conversations about the divine. 

In any conversation centered around beliefs—religious or not—a best practice is to define the terms we are using from the start. This is not a new concept; however, it is one that can easily become a second thought if we are not careful. Oftentimes, lofty terms are woven into conversations under the presumption that they have universal definitions. For instance, free will is a topic that has been debated by thousands, yet, if you ask a handful of people to define it, you would more than likely find a mix of answers. With any topic that we are passionate about, there is a temptation to rush into explaining why we believe what we do without first ensuring the proper groundwork has been laid. This is a futile effort. It is impossible to have a worthwhile dialogue when neither party truly knows what is being discussed in the first place. There is likely a need for additional context to unlock a true understanding of what is at hand. In cases such as this, there are foundational terms that can be leaned on. Mystery is one of these terms.

Through contemplation of Mystery, we open the door for God to illuminate our hearts and minds in a way that pierces through confusion and darkness.

Mystery is the point at which we know something to be true, yet, do not fully understand how it is so. Understanding this definition is the key to understanding why we may walk away unsatisfied with our understanding of some complex spiritual idea and how we can find peace with that experience. This is why it is critical to establish the foundational term of Mystery. It is true that this initial definition alone does help us; however, the true power of the term “Mystery” comes from discovering the purpose for God allowing there to be Mystery in the first place. We cannot discuss or even fully understand the great mysteries of the Church without this.

For many, Mystery lacks purpose and points to a deficiency in religion. People in this camp will often lean on the human intellect and its ability to understand complex ideas as the cornerstone of what they believe in. For them, that which is greater in majesty than the human mind and cannot be scientifically proven must be rejected. Ironically, the source of their disbelief is also what leads to understanding the purpose of Mystery.

From a rational perspective, for God to exist, Mystery must also exist. There is no reality in which there can be God and no Mystery. For God, there is no Mystery because he is infinite. He has infinite knowledge and wisdom of all things because he created all things. If mere human beings were able to fully understand and comprehend reality, it would imply one of two things: we are also infinite, which we know is not true since there are many limits to our minds and bodies, or the ideas we are trying to understand are not infinite. Logically, it follows that if we could fully know and understand God and his doings, he would not be infinite, and therefore, would not be God. 

Mystery will always be present to us, and that is actually a good thing. This is an incredible reality for us to be aware of. It is in this that we discover how vital Mystery is to the foundation of our spiritual lives. It is what allows us to wield a worldly objection to God as a powerful catechetical weapon. And although there is much benefit in understanding what Mystery is and why God allows it, the most important realization is that Mystery is not a dead end. It may seem that Mysteries come shrouded in darkness, implying that we are called to encounter them and move on blindly, but on the contrary, Mystery is the starting point for understanding God and his doings.

We are called to find the light and allow God to reveal more about the Mystery through contemplation, study, and prayer. Through contemplation of Mystery, we open the door for God to illuminate our hearts and minds in a way that pierces through confusion and darkness. Although we cannot understand everything, God does allow us to understand parts of these Mysteries, and in doing so, he reveals who he is and why he does what he does. Our humanity may be limited, but God’s grace and ability to illuminate our hearts and minds are not. It is because of what scares us most about our faith that God’s love and existence can be most easily found. When we encounter Mystery or tell others about it, God’s existence, love, and majesty are on full display.