The Rationality of Mystery

Being in a college environment, it’s sometimes not appropriate to fall back onto “well it’s a mystery” when explaining a doctrine. In dealing with theology and philosophy students, it appears that everything and anything about God must be explained and must be rational. Thus, when I find myself turning to mystery, I’m told that it’s a “cop-out” or that I’m simply being lazy in my study.

However, without going into too much detail, I readily believe that the most reasonable aspect of Christianity is its mystery. Even Paul calls the Gospel a mystery (Ephesians 6:19). But why would He do so and why is mystery actually rational?

For one, God declares in Isaiah 55 that His thoughts and ways are above our own; this indicates that He is beyond comprehension. Anything that is beyond comprehension is, by definition, a mystery. To look at this logically:

(1) Anything beyond comprehension is a mystery

(2) God is beyond comprehension

(3) Therefore, God is a mystery

When people try to rationally explain every aspect of God’s being, they attempt to pull Him within the realm of comprehension. However, isn’t this always the sign of an idol? The Hebrews didn’t understand why God had abandoned them at the base of a mountain, so they created a false image of God, an image of gold, one they could comprehend. Think of all the false religions of old and present where the gods are more than human, but still close to humans. They can be comprehended, predicted, and understood just as clearly as any other human being is understood.

Ancient heresies begin this way as well. Arius could not understand how God could both be Father and Son; how God could be Unitarian and distinct at the same time. Thus, rather than embracing the mystery of the Trinity, He took his rationality to one extreme and in so doing became irrational. Other heresies have arisen in an attempt to explain aspects of God that we have no business explaining.

At the same time, we don’t want to always run to the side of “mystery” whenever we approach a difficult subject. For instance, the Incarnation is a mystery, but it can also be explained (though such explanation lacks comprehension).

In the end, however, God is infinitely beyond us, thus we cannot comprehend Him. We can explain Him in terms of what He has revealed to us about Himself, but beyond that He is a mystery. We can explain how His Trinitarian nature is not a contradiction, but beyond that we are often at a loss. Most of the central doctrines of Christianity will ultimately be mysterious in some fashion because the more central a doctrine is to Christianity, the closer that doctrine is to the nature of God, a nature we simply cannot comprehend.

From a practical perspective, there is great comfort in embracing the mystery of God. During a difficult time, such as the death of a loved one or a natural disaster, we may not know why such an event has been allowed, but we know we can take trust in God. At the end of the book of Job, after Job’s friends have attempted to explain why Job has suffered, God responds in a storm. God’s response is essentially, “I’m God. I know why I allow what I allow and I do it all for a purpose. Unless you’re Me, the best you can do is trust Me.” God is not saying this in a cocky fashion or as a power play. He is simply letting Job know the truth; we do not and cannot know why God does certain acts, thus it is best to trust in Him. We know that He will work all things to good for those that love Him, and for those of us who love Him, when we find ourselves in difficult situations, it is in this promise and in His mystery that we have comfort.

This is why mystery is, ironically enough, rational. Without mystery, God is no longer God, but nothing more than a being that is equal or lesser than ourselves. What comfort can be taken in such a being? Only a God beyond knowledge, a God of mystery, makes sense in Christianity and can bring comfort.