The Mystery of God
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “When I came to you brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom.” Sometimes it is tempting to us, out of exasperation or weariness to fall back on “the mystery of God.” I might say to myself, “Well, I can’t understand any more about this passage in scripture so I am going to stop studying and chalk it up to God’s mysterious ways.” But it turns out even the “mystery of God” does not end there but is a further call to be students of the Bible. In English, the word “disciple” simply means learner. We are “learners” of the Lord, engaged in program of continuing education that lasts way past college; as long as Jesus is our teacher, we’re his learners.
We can see the mystery of God at the very beginning of the Bible. Think of Eve. Were you and I creators of the universe, we probably would have created Adam and Eve at the same time. That’s the “logical” way. Spare Adam loneliness and pain, make Eve and Adam together! Instead, God does it differently, mysteriously. He operates on Adam--takes a rib out. Adam must have been sore when he woke up! God’s way, God’s illogical, foolish ways work out better than our ways. Had it been done our way, Adam would have just accepted Eve as a piece of the furniture of creation; he would have taken her for granted. But God did it his way, and Adam declares, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” It is the closest that Adam has ever come to praising God. As the Bible says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”
We see the hiddenness, the mystery of God over and over again in the Bible. We see it in Abraham and Sarah: having a baby at the ages of 99 and 90 respectively. We would have done it differently were we God. We would have given them baby Isaac at the normal time. God’s way is better. Had Abraham and Sarah conceived in their youths, they couldn’t have helped concluding that Isaac was par for the course. In their extreme old age, however, Isaac’s birth can only be seen as a miracle, nothing less than resurrection from the dead (Hebrews 11:12).
We see the mystery of God in the Exodus from Egypt; were I the Lord God, I would have rented fleets of buses and bused the children of Israel direct to the promised land. But it is only through the Red Sea that the children of Israel, “believe in God and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31). And it is only after the indirect route, forty years in the wilderness, that the Israelites can fell the walls of Jericho by (of all things) walking round it, shouting and blowing trumpets. Were we in charge we would just used tanks or something and the world would never have seen a living picture of the Spirit of God, “not by might and not by power but by my spirit says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).
And perhaps most mysterious of all, we see the cross of Jesus Christ: Jews and Gentiles saved from enemies far deadlier than a human army of any nationality. Through the foolishness of the cross we are saved from our own sins, from death and from the devil. Is this the way we would have done it? Would a cross have been in our thoughts and plans? Long ago the prophet Habakkuk prophesied that the “just by faith shall live” (Habakkuk 2:4). In the historical context the meaning is plain. Those who had faith and trusted God and were calm in the face of the Chaldean onslaught would be saved, would survive. But God gives this prophest a new meaning. In Isaiah the “just one” is the man of sorrows whose death with criminals is turned, by God’s faith and mercy (Isaiah 55:3) into a holy offering for the sin and rebellion of Israel and the world (53:8). And by this same power of faith and mercy, the Lord Jesus Jehovah is raised from the dead, “he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days...and divide the spoil of the great” (53:10,12). Is this the way we would have accomplished salvation? No indeed, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
As we look forward to Christmas we see again the mystery of God and we see not just in the Bible but in life how Jesus’ words come true: “I thank thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth because thou hast hid these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes, yes Father for such is your gracious will” (Matthew 11:25). And one by one, as children we enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14).