While the 2-hour, made-for-television detective movies of the past (remember Peter Falk in Columbo?) seem to have given way to hour-long dramas, my wife and I still enjoy watching a good mystery. When we, as the viewers, are taken through the challenges of figuring out the truth about a complex situation, there’s a chance to flex our mental capabilities a little bit, and see if we can anticipate what is coming in the next segment.
(For instance, if you already figured out what this article is going to be about, you’ve probably read or seen your share of deductive reasoning examples.)
Some time back, I learned an interesting point about the idea of the word “mystery” in the Bible. As I understand it, the Greeks had this idea that there were difficult things to understand or to figure out. However, they were not unknowable – where we were never able to solve them. Instead, they could be studied, evaluated, and – to the learned – even figured out. (See Colossians 1:24-29.)
This contrasts with the idea of obscure, cryptic, impossible-to-understand things, where we’re not likely to ever figure it out. Probably no one will ever understand the plot line of the TV series “Lost”. As a Dilbert comic suggested once, we’re probably better off not trying to understand what “non-dairy creamer” is made of.
In this sense, mysteries in the Greek world (during the time when the New Testament was written) are more like a mystery novel, TV show, or movie. If we pay attention, we have a chance to find the answer. The mysteries in the Bible don’t have to be mysterious (arcane, obscure, mystical). They may have surprising answers, but – from my inspection – rarely do the answers seem to be complex or difficult to understand. (On the other hand, they are sometimes difficult to accept.)
To solve a mystery from a book, show, or movie, we often need just one or two more clues, provided by the author. These are usually revealed dramatically in the last act. To understand mysteries in real life, our best solution is to look to the Author of life, who shares answers according to His plan throughout history. Other mysteries may be solvable with our own knowledge and persistence, but even those skills are given to us by Him.
God understands all things, and reveals the answers to mysteries (see Job 12:22, Daniel 2:17-30). Whether we dig into the answers He has already provided, or just ask Him for the solution, He – transcending time and space in omniscience – has the answer to all mysteries.
Having said that, not everyone gets to understand the answer to every mystery (see Luke 8:9-10). We can improve our chances by keeping our hearts open, and being willing to listen for answers, but it’s also OK if we don’t find the answers to everything in this finite life on earth.
Once we do learn new things, though, it’s not our role to jump up and brag about our newfound solutions, supposing that we’re now superior to others. Knowing the answer to mysteries is pointless if we don’t have love.
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2 NASB
So, as you learn about the mysteries of God, announce the answers with “Spoiler Alert” if you want, but be sure to share them with others in a kind and loving way. This is one case where it’s better to know the ending ahead of time.
To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:6-7 NASB
For more on this topic, see also Romans 11:25-27 (Israel and Gentiles), 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 (God’s wisdom, shared by the Holy Spirit), Ephesians 3:1-13 (the gospel available to Gentiles), Ephesians 6:18-20 (mysteries can be shared), and Colossians 2:1-4 (answers can be found in Jesus).