Saturday, December 6, 2008


mystery noun 1. something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained.
I've been doing some reading and thinking about postmodernism lately. It's been an interest for awhile, but I think I am finally getting a better understanding. I guess 'mystery' was a good word to describe the whole idea of the shift in worldview from modern to postmodern, until now. Now it's only confusing!

One of the things I am learning is that the modern mindset permeated all of western thought so completely and for so many years (several centuries) that we can't separate it from the object being considered. In many ways, it has been the cultural lens through which we see everything—but don't realize that the lens affects everything we are looking at. You get used to the sunglasses you have on, and don't notice how they are coloring every object within your view.

Such is the case within the church as much as in science, anthropology or whatever you care to analyze. As people 'of the Book', we see scripture through our modern mindset, and consider our understanding to be exactly what God had in mind when the Book was written centuries ago. But it wasn't written by modern people, or intended to be understood from a modern perspective. (Not that moderns aren't supposed to read it, or understand it, or follow it, but that it needs to be understood as the people it was written for understood it.)

I'm not really trying to be heretical here, just laying a bit of foundation.

So, back to the concept of 'mystery'.
There are lots of mysteries in the bible. The King James Bible uses the word 22 times (all in the New Testament). I expect in Bible times there were lots of things that could not be explained. And they recognized that, and accepted that. Some of these mysteries would have involved their understanding of God's ways and character, His plans for the future, His plans for individuals.

And then comes the Age of Enlightenment, times of technological advancement, science and experimentation. In other words, the modern mindset.
Now people begin to expect experts to find new things, to explain old mysteries, to solve the problems around them. Cures for diseases, harnessing electrical power, inventing a plethora of gadgets. And answering all the questions stirred up in scripture.
--what will happen in the future?
--what moves God to perform supernatural wonders?
--how can we tap into His power?
--how can I live a perfect life?
And so many more.

If science can find a cure for smallpox, or invent a gadget that can think for me, or send some equipment to another planet, surely there has to be a way to understand God more fully.
So, we now have shelves and shelves of books that endeavor to answer all kinds of spiritual questions. Because we (as moderns) think we need and deserve to have answers for every question.
We aren't satisfied with life like the ancients lived it—knowing there were mysteries, and being totally satisfied with that knowledge. Not worried that they didn't exactly know what would happen after death. Happy to know that God had it all under control.

Then there is us. Never satisfied. Always having to know. And being told 500 different answers because we still, really don't know. I think end-time prophecy is a great example. Every author has the definitive answer—that doesn't agree with the next one. Every book has a timeline—that differs from the next one. Obviously, we don't have all of the answers, and pretending that your answer is better than everyone else's is rather arrogant and presumptuous, I believe.

Back again to the concept of mystery.
I think we would do better to accept the mysteries of God as just that. Mysteries. Unknown. Probably unknowable. To be accepted by faith.
There may well be reasons to believe that the end of the world will happen soon, and in a certain way. After all, there are lots of prophecies in the Bible. But they are still mysterious. Not exactly laid out in black and white. BECAUSE GOD INTENDED IT THAT WAY!
Perhaps we are doing God a very big dis-service by trying to open boxes He has closed. By laying out the steps to something He didn't clarify for us. By answering questions He intentionally didn't answer.

More people have been turned away from faith by our wrangling and arrogance than have been brought to faith by it. Now that modernism is giving way to postmodernism, perhaps we will soon be willing to admit that there are still mysteries in the universe. And go back to just trusting God to do things His way, in His time, without necessarily telling us in advance. Or explaining Himself.
Less wrangling and nitpicking over differences of opinion on questionable points of view.
Less arrogance about my point of view.
Less people turned off by what they see as the Christian faith.
More people interested in joining us on the journey.

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