William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential American political figures in the early 1900’s. Three times he was the Democratic nominee for president, he served in the United States House of Representatives from the state of Nebraska, and he was the Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson. It would seem he also had a keen eye for beauty:
“I am not so much a farmer as some people claim, but I have observed the watermelon seed. It has the power of drawing from the ground through itself 200,000 times its weight. When you can tell me how it takes this material and from it colors an outside surface, and then forms inside of it a white rind and within that a red heart, thickly inlaid with black seeds, each one of which is capable of drawing through itself 200,000 times its weight: when you can explain to me the mystery of a watermelon, you can ask me to explain the mystery of God.”
A century of science and the technology to discover the utterly astonishing complexity of one living cell has only deepened the truth of Bryan’s words rather than diminishing them. The truth is that our world is dripping with mystery, despite the impression our iPhones might attempt to offer. Information is not the same as explanation. We live inundated with facts but with increasingly little wonder at the actual reality of things.
Renowned scientist and author Lewis Thomas observed that even musicologists “haven’t a ghost of an idea about what music is, or why we make it and cannot be human without it, or even - and this is the telling point - how the human mind makes music on its own before it is written down and played…biologists are no help here, nor the psychologists, nor the physician, nor the philosophers, wherever they are these days. Nobody can explain it. It is a mystery, and thank goodness for that.”
If creation is replete with mystery, then it should come as no surprise that mystery lies at the very heart of our faith and our worship. If the act of singing itself is laden with wonder, then how much more the One to whom we are singing? Spiritual mysteries do not refer to points of confusion. They refer, instead, to truths that are abundantly clear but so deep that our minds and hearts cannot plumb the depths of them. The apostle Paul was no stranger to such matters and did not shy away from speaking often of them. He references the mystery of Christ in us and the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27), the mystery of Israel (Romans 11:25-26), the mystery of the resurrection of the body in the generation of the Lord’s return (1 Corinthians 15:51), the mystery of one new man formed between Jew and Gentile in Christ (Ephesians 3:6), the mystery of Christ and His bride (Ephesians 5:32), and the mystery that all things in the heavens and the earth will be brought together through Jesus (Ephesians 1:9-10). Such a list carries immense theological weight. These are deep and foundational tenets of orthodoxy. Yet at the core of our faith, and indeed at the burning center of all reality, stands a mystery that far eclipses all of these lofty truths, and upon which they are all contingent: the mystery of God.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1-3
Jesus Himself is the mystery of God. It is not merely what He says or what He does, but His very identity. He is the perfection of humanity ascending to God, and He is the fullness of deity condescending toward humanity in one person, one holy life (Colossians 2:9). He is the First and He is the Last (Revelation 1:17). Jesus is the Savior and the sacrifice; He is at once both the Shepherd and the Lamb (Revelation 7:17). We can celebrate His birth, but His goings forth are from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2). Paul declared that Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham, and yet He was there long before Abraham was born (Galatians 3:16; John 8:58, 17:5).
Great is the mystery! There might be disputes about many things, but on this matter than can be no argument!
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16
Let us come and behold this wondrous mystery anew: The Creator of the heavens and the earth robed in frail humanity, the everlasting Word made flesh, the King over all coming as a bondservant (Colossians 1:16-17, John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-11). May Jesus receive the praise and honor that He is worthy of until He comes once more!