I don’t get it. That is something that I have heard more than a few times as a pastor. I don’t get why things are the way they are. Why didn’t God answer that prayer in a way that seemed like it would fit with Kingdom values? Why did this happen? Why did that story in the Bible happen as it did? What is Jesus talking about here? Why? How? What? Huh?
Years ago in my faith, I was one of those who wanted to figure out all the answers. To help with that I bought books like “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and other books about “apologetics” to try to help explain everything in the Christian faith. That’s not surprising given my Enneagram leanings – I am a 5 who wants to know more and more and then even more after that. Of course, I wouldn’t be ok with mystery and the unknown. Questions without answers? NEVER!
However, as the years have gone by, I have grown more and more comfortable with mystery and with the unknown. I find that there are more places that I am ok with things being foggy, unclear, fuzzy, and even unknowable. Does that mean I’ve given up on trying to understand God and God’s workings? No. But it is that I am willing to allow space for the unknown – some things that I may sometime be able to find answers for and some that I don’t think I ever will.
As I have delved deeper into artistic pursuits like photography, gravitated towards disciplines of reading poetry and growing in openness to take in the perspectives of others far different from me, I find that there’s a beauty that comes in the mysterious in between places in all of that. There have been more than a few things in the last few chapters of Luke that I find myself more comfortable being willing to accept that it is fuzzy what Jesus might have meant by what is in Luke 11:24-26 about casting out an unclean spirit, then the spirit returning to a house that has seemingly been put into order. There’s much that can be dug into with this strange saying of Jesus – it doesn’t have to be explained away to make it fit everything else.
So there are some aspects to mystery that are beautiful and allow for the possibility of growth and understanding or simply resting in the unknowing.
But there are other mysteries that, at the same time, are far from beautiful but just as mysterious and unknown. The community where I serve as a pastor had a tragedy take place over the weekend. An 8th grade girl died very suddenly at a cheerleading competition. Just out of the blue. Why? Why her? What happened then? As I gathered with other religious leaders to assist in a service last night at the middle school, I looked out and saw the shock and grief and pain over the faces of so many of the students, parents, and staff that gathered. In that gym that normally is filled with the sounds of cheering and music and singing school songs…last night it was filled with the sound of grief that echoed throughout the space. All were invited to share memories and thoughts and prayers – writing them on yellow post-it notes and putting them on several white boards around the room. I took this shot through the board from behind – one reason for capturing this as I did was because I wanted to respect the privacy of the notes that were written. But the other reason is that it reflects the mystery and the unknown of it all. Again, why her? Why then? Why? All questions of mystery for which we will likely never get the answer.
When I got up to speak, I went to the book of Job – a story that has one of the best examples of what it means to enter into a time like this. When Job’s three friends arrive, the first thing they do upon seeing his grief is to simply sit with him in his grief and sorrow for seven days without saying a word. I have written about this story other times on this blog as well. (They then get into trouble when they open their mouths and try to make sense of it all).
But that’s the difficult place that we need to be willing to stay – in the mystery. In the in-between. In the place of grief and sorrow. In the place of unknowing. In the place where God can meet us – sometimes in the embracing arms of someone to care, sometimes in the confirmation of something we’ve felt. Sometimes in something even more unexpected. And sometimes maybe not feeling that God met us there at all. But still being in that place of mystery…