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Ah, Sweet Mystery!

Updated: Apr 2

Ah, Sweet Mystery!

A Guest Blog from Rev. Carlston "Red" Berry, Oklahoma City, OK

This selection is taken from Rev. Berry's soon to be released devotional book

OFF THE STUDY WALL


Deut. 29:29; Col. 2:2; I Tim. 3:16; Rev. 10:7



It is a fact that any question, pursued to its ultimate end, leaves us with some measure of mystery we cannot solve. The doctrine of the Trinity, the question of God and evil, and the Incarnation, to cite a few, are matters that the human mind ultimately cannot fully understand. The result of heavy thinking about such matters is the end of faith for some, and the beginning of it for others. Why is this? What is the place of mystery in our lives and in our relationship with God?


If it were not for mystery, there would be little point in trying to live meaningfully. Observation proves that we humans actually desire mystery, hence man's incurable pursuit (and often, invention) of religion. The desire for mystery is the explanation for the cults, demon worship, witchcraft, and Satanism. And it is the appeal, humanly speaking, of any religion, including the true faith.


Mystery, then, is one of the things that makes life worth living. Men and women typically complain of not being able to understand each other, but the eternal mystery of the opposite sex is one thing that keeps marriage and procreation going. We often lose interest in what we fully understand, or in what we totally conquer. If God and all things about Him and His ways were such that we could fully understand them, we would have no interest in or use for God. John writes of the time when "the mystery of God shall be finished," referring, I believe, to the end of our temporal experience, and promising a tremendous increase in our understanding when we get to Heaven. I do not know everything meant by that statement, and I doubt that anyone else does, but the promise that it will be finished then is an acknowledgment that it exists now in a way we cannot fully comprehend.


I said that mystery is the end of faith for some (those who would rather be done with God, anyway), but it is the beginning of faith for others. Sometimes the “mystery of God” is an instrument in the calling out of the elect. The great American philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler, who came to Christ in his old age, said the doctrine of the Trinity was the instrumental reason for his faith. He had even written a book titled, “How To Think About God,” but he said he would not worship the God he wrote about! If God were such that he could understand and explain Him, there would be no reason for faith, so far as he was concerned.


The existence of mystery keeps up our interest in life, holding before us the fact that there is always more to be learned, more progress to be made, more mountains to climb, more questions to be answered. When one rejects everything that contains mystery, or decides he is no longer interested in dealing with the mysteries of life, his life is over, for all practical purposes. George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera, killed himself with a single gunshot to his chest at age 72. While there were other factors involved, such as poor health, the six-word note he left behind seems to indicate that there was no further mystery or meaning in life for him. He had said that “It is necessary for people to have an interest in life outside their occupations.” He had defined his life's meaning by his life’s work. He never married and was almost totally consumed by his work. When he decided he had accomplished all he possibly could, he ended his life, leaving behind this note: “My work is done. Why wait?”


Moses' words in Deuteronomy 29:29 explain more that we may realize at first glance: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed are for us and our children, that we may do all the words of this law." We must live by what we understand, and trust God with the rest, yet while respecting the mystery and worshiping the Mysterium Tremendum / Fascinosum,[1]the God who has clothed Himself not only in glory, but in mystery. That God, as Mortimer J. Adler said, is worthy of our worship!


Brother Red


A Further Consideration Concerning the Mysterium Tremendum and Mysterium Fascinosum


Rudolph Otto in his book "The Idea of the Holy" says that when someone has an authentic experience of the Holy, they find themselves caught up in two opposite movements at the same time: the mysterium tremendum and the mysterium fascinosum, a scary mystery and a very alluring mystery. We both draw back from and are pulled forward into a kind of liminal space where we are not at home at all and yet totally at home for perhaps the first time.

In the mysterium tremendum, you know God as far and beyond—unreachable and beyond description! Here you experience God as dreadful and fearful, as the one who has all the power, and in whose presence, I am utterly powerless. People at that stage tend to become overwhelmed by a sense of separation or alienation. If you stop there, you either become an atheist, an agnostic, or a loyal but distant soldier. The defining of sin and sin management becomes the very nature of religion.


But simultaneously with this dimension is an opposite feeling of fascination, allurement, and seduction, a being pulled and drawn into something very satisfying and inviting. This is the mysterium fascinosum. If you only have the alluring part without the deep reverence for this mystery, you get merely sentimental and emotional religion, usually without any real social consequences ("Sweet Jesus" Christianity, as it is sometimes called). Otto says if you don't have both, you have not had a true or full experience of "The Holy."


~Adapted from Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox


[1]God holy and fearsome yet fascinating and alluring. Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox, retrieved from https://saintsophiadc.org/2014/02/mysterium-tremendum-mysterium-fascinosum/

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