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Living in Mystery

As humans, we love a good mystery. We are fascinated by thrillers, procedural dramas, and puzzles. On the other hand, we spend so much time trying not to live in mystery–or rather, uncertainty–ourselves.  God knows this about us, and in fact He created us this way to push us forward.  By discovering the universe and our place in it, we understand and desire to grow closer to Him.

To start with the bigger picture, God created a universe so large and complex that we would seek to learn the mystery for thousands of years.  Within our own solar system, we set foot on the moon, set probes to different planets, and counted our planets and moons.  We have created theories for why things work and what elements are necessary for life to exist. And yet, even though we have made significant progress in the realm of science, one answered question often leads to three more unanswered ones.

We all respond to the mystery in different ways.  Some of us need all the facts, the evidence, the proof of how things came to be.  And when science and faith do not always seem to correspond, some of us prefer to hold onto what is right in front of us, what we can see.  Because living in mystery is uncomfortable.  We want to know the answer, not be left with questions.  

Yet others are content to live in awe of the mystery.  We look at the universe and simply stand in wonder, even when things do not line up as we expect.  The questions leave us with both amazement at God’s creation and a desire to know Him more deeply.  We have faith that all will be revealed in the end.  Thus, the mystery is so incomprehensible that it has a push-and-pull effect. Much like planets orbit around the sun, and moons orbit around their planets, the mystery of the universe pulls us into orbit around God.

Like the great mystery of the universe, we deal with mystery in our everyday lives.  We want questions answered: will we have food on the table, a roof over our heads, clothes on our bodies?  Will we get the job we’ve been working towards, will we find love?  These are the things we want to feel safe and secure, to know that we have solved the mystery of our lives.

Perhaps that is the appeal of fiction.  A question always arises and gets answered in a satisfying conclusion.  In a mystery novel: will the murder get solved?  In a romance: will the protagonists end up together?  In fantasy: will the monster be defeated?  But our lives do not wrap up nicely and in a timely order like a story in a book.  When we are uncomfortable dealing with the mystery of our lives, not knowing what the next day will bring, we are anxious.  

Yet in Matthew 6:25-27, the Lord tells us:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

If we reflect and look back on the circumstances that led us to where we are, we can see the way that the Lord has led us and provided for us.  In my own life, the Lord has given me parents who supported my education, opportunities for internships and job experiences, and co-workers and mentors I have learned from along the way.  Looking back, I can see all my questions about where my life was going were answered according to God’s timing, not my own.

Which means that when we experience setbacks, those are according to God’s timing, too.  But we must hold fast to the belief that He is always good, and whatever trials we go through are opportunities for us to grow in virtue.  Ultimately, this means being able to trust God and being at peace with his mystery.

Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines mystery as: “a divinely revealed truth whose very possibility cannot be rationally conceived before it is revealed and, after revelation, whose inner essence cannot be fully understood by the finite mind.”  While there are some mysteries that humans create with solvable answers–such as equations or crime novels–God’s mysteries are infinite and invite us to wonder more about Him.

Yet He does not leave us in total confusion.  As St. Paul writes, “he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in Heaven, and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10).  When we are restless to seek instant or finite answers, we can at least rest confidently in the knowledge of what has been revealed to us.  Rather than waiting in a state of nervousness of the unknown, we can wait in joyful anticipation of what is to come, knowing that there are more mysteries to be revealed.


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