Living in Mystery

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Whether it was me as a kid looking through my parents’ closet trying to find the presents they got me for Christmas, or the horror movies I watched where the protagonists decided to curiously read a book or enter a room in which inadvertently released some horrid evil into the story, or even so far back as Adam and Eve curiously taking a bite of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, we are all averse to mystery.

It is not to say that we do not enjoy the Mystery genre, of course, who does not appreciate the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Scooby-Doo? Even Stephen King would say that the mystery of not knowing is a vital factor which drives us deeper into a story. However, we want that mystery to end at some point. We must know how Holmes did it, and we must know who is behind the mask of the villain. We can not let ourselves sit in the mystery for too long. And if we must sit for too long in the mystery, we often attempt to find reductive and cheap solutions to our own unknowing and lack of control.

We do this often. Whether it is the miracles of Jesus being blotched away by the hand of Thomas Jefferson, Job’s comforters offering rationalistic answers to Job’s suffering, my nearly neurotic and anxious attempts at figuring out what my future will look like in five years, or our need to reduce every human behavior down to a machine-like system that we can comprehend, mysteries are only okay just as long as they make sense to us or do not leave us in the dark—which sadly and unfortunately robs them of being mysterious.

Surely, there is something deeply good in the search for a suitable mystery’s end. When I was reading Lord of the Rings, I was eager to know how and if Sauron would be defeated, I wanted to know if Sam and Frodo would reach Mt. Doom, and I really wanted to know why the Ring had no control over Tom Bombadil. I would take a gamble too that most of us wish we knew our friends, our parents, our children, or our spouses in an increasing amount as Eugene Peterson once wrote, “People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.” There are certainly mysteries we are called to enter into.

There is a big difference however between entering into a cave to explore it and entering into a cave arrogantly expecting to find a random, unmarked exit. I would say mysteries are similar. Of course if we know that there is a marked exit to the cave, we should explore it and possibly try to find it. And I am sure wisdom would dictate that there are some diabolical caves we dare not enter. But our mystery-aversion comes in the form of not being able to enter a proper cave that is not promised to have an alternate exit. Even if we do enter, we may make our way miles and miles in, set off dynamite to close off the remainder of the cave, and dig our way out to convince ourselves that there is nothing else left to explore of the cave. If we can not solve the mystery, we are often repelled by it.

It takes something profound to enter into the harder mysteries. Like the cries etched throughout the Psalms and even our own lives, the mysteries of God’s seeming absence amidst suffering and grief are mysteries we feel wary to enter. It often seems far less painful to avoid entering that mystery and far safer to coldly analyze it from a distance. Yet we lose something of significant substance, similar to what G.K. Chesterton wrote in his Introduction to the Book of Job, when we refuse to enter that particular cave:

“Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

This paradoxical cave that Job found himself in was one that seemed to lack both an entrance and an exit. Even though Job’s situation was resolved, he was still left without the understanding of “why” he was ever in the situation to begin with. Yet Chesterton concludes with saying that “It is the lesson of the whole work [of Job] that man is most comforted by paradoxes.”

In some of the caves of my own life, I have experienced and still experience the weariness of wandering alone in the dark and cold of those endless mazes. I have often attempted to rationalize my way out, or given up, or just blown my own way out, but I have found that in the deepest pits of those caves is where I am sometimes met with a mysterious tenderness and an abiding, divine embrace. I am averse to entering into mystery, yet it is often in those caves that I find something better than the exit I had originally sought. 

 

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