A recent dialogue I had regarding God and His allowance of evil led someone to accuse me of neglecting “mystery” in my encounter of God and my study of the Church. It caused me to take pause and ask: “Do I really ignore the mystery of faith? Have I become blind to the beauty of mystery?” After some reflection, I do not think so; further, I was led to realize that many who like to accuse others of ignoring the mystery of God (and the many mysteries that we encounter like the Eucharist, the Trinity, and the likes) are themselves guilty of missteps in understanding the true beauty of mystery.
When I was younger, I would often get frustrated with people who would answer my questions that sought for a rational understanding of the Eucharist, the Trinity, the reason for evil, and many other topics by telling me “it is a mystery.” I thought this was a copout. I thought that those who answer me with “mystery” were simply stumped and were attempting to defend an indefensible position with the theological equivalent of “because I said so.” I was obviously errant in such an opinion and I myself was denying the mystery for what it was.
As humans, our nature seeks to understand the world around us. Being creatures with rational minds, this desire to seek leads us to seek rational arguments for everything, including God. We want to quantify and qualify all that God is so that we can pretend to know everything there is to know about him; packaging Him into a nice little box so that we can hold Him entirely in the palm of our hands. There is a pride within us, as humans, that makes us think that we can actually know with our intellect everything there is to know about God, especially His will and the purpose for His actions (or lack of action). Artists, as much as academics alike, try to bring God low by explaining too much, by “representing” too much, by placing him within the realm of certainty. It is possible to assert too much certainty about any particular mystery and God Himself. This is so because the mystery is above our human reason; it is more than the temporal reality in which we live.
The beauty of the mystery is too often thought of in temporal terms; that the beauty emanates from the material/emotional aspects of the mystery, since our intellect is limited in knowing through reason the mystery before us. I think this is the error, once again, of the human person trying to understand what is beyond our capacity. Since we cannot attach intellectual words to the mystery, we attach emotion, feelings, desires, and passion to the mystery. I believe (to use a term used by Pope Francis regarding Franciscan spirituality) this is a saccharine view of mystery; a view that still attempts to understand that which is beyond us; to make the mystery concrete, to make it sweet.
In truth, the beauty of the mystery is the encounter with God; plain and simple. The beauty of the mystery is the act of handing oneself completely over to the Will of God not knowing everything and still offering oneself vulnerable to the Creator. The mystery, appropriately experienced, is an experience of trust and of humility. When we encounter mystery we acknowledge our own limitation in knowing and say to God: “I do not know all there is to know about what this is, but I trust that you do and I offer myself to you in this moment so that I may experience this gift, and enter into relationship with you, for no other purpose than to be in relationship with you, the Creator of the mystery.”
God invites us to experience something that is greater than us, that is more than us, that is beyond us, that cannot be fully understood in our temporal state. Therein lies the beauty. The beauty is that we enter into a relationship of trust, of faith, of love with God in order to experience the mystery that is beyond us, to experience God. The beauty of the mystery is not how it makes us feel. The beauty of the mystery is not the passion that the encounter may or may not enliven within us. The beauty of the mystery is the encounter itself and not its effects. The beauty is that God lowers Himself so that we may be raised.