“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:32 ESV. Mystery. In the modern world, referring to the last 400 years (and some of you are wondering what’s so modern about that?), in modernity, after the scientific revolution, mystery was something to be done away with. Mystery was nothing more than a problem to be solved. It was thought that everything could and should be explained in empirical terms. Jesus’ disciple Thomas may just have been the first empiricist. “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”” John 20:25 ESV. Unless he was empirically convinced, Thomas said I will never believe. Thomas being one of the twelve, he had been personally called by Jesus, and being so Jesus granted that Thomas might get what he wished for. He was granted that he might just touch and see and feel, but he was not blessed for that. “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” John 20:29 ESV. Jesus says not blessed is the empiricist, who has to see it, but Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
The western world from the 17th century on began to really embrace the idea of empiricism, and mystery had no more place. Mystery was not something to be honored, but something to be solved. This was true not only scientifically, but in popular culture. For example, in the nineteenth century, what passed for a “mystery” novel would have been something by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of all those Sherlock Holmes adventures. These were anything but a mystery, there was nothing mysterious about them at all. Every time, you find out there is no mystery, just something to be empirically solved by superior logic. “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” You can be sure that Sherlock Holmes didn’t think there was any mystery in creation, just something to be explained.
When many of us were kids, we had the Scooby Doo cartoons. They had the same plot every time. Every time it was old Farmer Jones in a mask! Nothing ghostly, nothing mysterious, nothing supernatural, just some guy in a mask, every time.
But then, things began to change. Not least of which, science changed, led by Albert Einstein. We moved from Newtonian physics to Einstein physics. It was a whole new ballgame, opening the door for quantum physics that shows that reality is, in fact, full of mystery. Ask the eminent scientists during this transition. Ask Niles Bohr about God playing dice. Ask Werner Heisenberg about the uncertainty principle. Ask Schrodinger about his cat. We discover that reality does not reject mystery, but it dances with it. It turns out that at the basis of physical reality, we find mystery. So that reality doesn’t reject mystery, it dances with mystery, and we can say the same thing about Christian theology. Christian theology does not reject mystery, but dances with mystery (at least it had better…).
So the science changed, and the culture began to change. Our attitude began to change, entertainment changed. Instead of Sherlock Holmes and Scooby Doo, we have Harry Potter, X-Files, we have Lost, and the embracing of mystery.
Mystery. The appropriate response to mystery is wonder. What is the greatest mystery, the greatest wonder of all? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:14 ESV. Meditate on the mystery of the incarnation, how the Word of God, the Logos of God, became human flesh in Jesus Christ, it will transform you. Christianity is inherently full if mystery. Mystery is one of the apostle Paul’s favorite words, have you ever noticed this? In the text we began with, the apostle Paul says the union between Christ and the church is mysteriously like the sexual union between a husband and wife. This is not something we try too hard to explain, but it is something we confess. Christianity is not an explanation. Christianity is a confession. We will explain what we can, but we don’t begin with reason and explanation in Christianity. We don’t start with reason and explanation, we start with revelation and confession. We begin with what has been revealed to us by God, then we confess it. Then, as possible, we will approach it with reason and explanation, but I expect that will always be a little bit beyond us.
For example, how many of you confess that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead? (I do, I do!). You confess this because it is revealed to you. It is revealed to you and you respond with an affirmation of faith and you say Yes, Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and He is Lord! Now explain how that happened. Explain how it works. Explain how it is that this man is raised from the dead, not just resuscitated, but lives physically, as a human, but beyond the realm that we see…you can’t explain it. It is beyond reason, beyond explanation, but you do confess it. Christianity does not begin with reason and explanation, but with revelation and confession. We will explain what we can, but if we can’t explain it all, don’t worry about it.
More to come…
“”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV