Living in the mystery

Confession time: I’m an analyzer.  Ok, make that an over-analyzer.  I am the type that has a deep drive to take every fact or experience and try to fit it into a category or framework; some sort of structure to show me what it all means.  It’s the never-ending push to understand, to know, that drives this desire to analyze, dissect and pick everything apart, so I won’t be lost on the dim plain of chance.

Let me explain it this way…

Imagine you’ve stumbled upon an abandoned battle field that now lies silent in the late moments of dusk. The sun has fled the horizon but the moon isn’t yet out, and the last shafts of daylight are reflected and diffused by a low-hanging cloud of battle-smoke and fog.  The wounded have long since been taken away, and now all that remains is a slowly shifting landscape of indefinable shapes; figures walking the field slowly, though for what purpose you have no idea.  Here you stand on the edge of the plain, wanting to walk through, but here’s the problem: simply don’t know what lies ahead.  You stare for a while, seeing the dim outline of several paths through the mist, but can’t discern where each one leads.  What’s more, you don’t know whether each one is level or rocky, whether you can run with abandon or must instead creep along to avoid pitfalls.  You just… don’t… know.

Not only that, but what to make of the figures and objects you see through the fog?  All you can see are shapes, undefined masses in the mist, with no way to see whether they are inanimate or alive, friend, foe, or neutral.  If you don’t know what the path looks like, and you don’t know much at all about the scattered details on the horizon, how can you possibly decide which way to go?

For me, and I believe for many, if not most of us, this scene is a constant part of our lives.  Each person will see it a little differently of course, but the feeling of not knowing what to expect, of lacking solid understanding about what the scattered events around us mean… well, it’s simply part of the world in which we live.

Now, the way we handle this varies widely.  Some will approach with abandon, running recklessly through the field with no idea what lies ahead, maintaining the attitude of “it’ll all work out in the end”.  Others will stop at the edge and sit, waiting and waiting for answers until their days simply fade away and end with them never having moved at all.  Still others will begin to walk, then retrace their steps and try another path, only to repeat again and again in a cycle of indecision.

Even among those who claim to follow Christ, it usually seems to work the same way.  The only difference is some will run recklessly while confidently proclaiming that God is with them, and others will spend their waiting time in prayer and Scripture reading, trying to find a black-and-white plan they can believe in.

Here’s the problem with this… God is not merely black-and-white.

To be sure, the Bible reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) and, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num 23:19), but there is a HUGE difference in acknowledging the unchanging constancy of God’s character, and trying to fit all of His plans and actions into a neatly predictable package.

No, God is a God of wildness, of mystery.  He is a God who loves His children fiercely, and does desire all sorts of good for them, but what seems good on this side of eternity may not always be the case on the other.  There is nothing wrong with praying for answers, seeking guidance and direction, and asking God for specific things in our lives, but when we try to fit God’s actions into a mold that assures our comfort and success, when we try to assign to His ways criteria that always make sense to us, then what we are doing is approaching the eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe and demanding that He work in ways that we approve.

We must remember that the same God who gave His people water and mana in the desert also later sent them famine and drought.

The same Jesus that healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda also left other invalids there, unhealed.

The same God that came to Solomon, saying “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5b) and then granted the young king’s request far beyond his wildest dreams, also came to righteous Job and said “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man and I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand…” and on and on (though in the end He did restore to Job all he had lost, and more).

This is a God of tender kindness and awesome judgment; a God who always keeps His promises, but in His way and time; a God who lets His children wrestle and argue with Him, but will not be pinned down, and it is because of this, that He is worthy of awe, respect, worship, and love.

In my life, I find more and more that as long as I am raging my own private war against uncertainty, I become more and more miserable.  It’s like boxing the wind or resisting the tide: I can struggle for a while, but in the end I am the one that must admit defeat, every time.

True peace comes when I am able to embrace the truth that life and God are never completely predictable, never fully knowable this side of eternity.  To the degree that I embrace the marvelous mystery of this thing we call existence; to the degree that I can learn to not fight the current, but ride the rapids; to the degree that I am able to trust in the character of God, I can be content.

Ultimately, standing at the edge of the foggy unknown, I am not the one who can – or should – try and know the path or the objects on the field.  All I must learn to do is stretch out my hand to the mist and wait for the grip of the One who does know, and when it comes, simply close my eyes… and walk.

Phillip Gonzales


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