The Problem With Quick Appeals to Mystery

How do Some People Respond to Deep Questions about God?

There are many questions that Christians have about the existence of God.  Some of these questions have to do with the coherence of the concept of God or other theological issues in Christianity.  How can God be three persons?  How does God’s sovereignty work with our free-will?  How is Jesus both God and man?  These questions, and many others, are often on a Christian’s mind and will inevitably be asked in church and Bible studies.  A common response to these questions is to appeal to the mystery of God.  God, being infinite, is beyond complete comprehension, so it is a mystery how these things work together.

Potential Problems with this Kind of Response

There is truth to this response.  God is not completely comprehensible by us because He is infinite.  We will never fully understand a being like God and we would be fooling ourselves to think that we can.  However, my concern is that Christians and pastors will use quick appeals to mystery as an easy way to dismiss a legitimate question about God and certain theological doctrines.  While acknowledging the mysteriousness of God has legitimacy, it leads to a few problems if it is used as a quick response to complex questions about God.  Here are the problems.

  1. Quick appeals to mystery stop us from thinking deeply about God.  When you love something, you think about that thing as often as possible and seek to understand it more.  Quick appeals to mystery can cut that deep thinking short and it comes off as saying “No, don’t think that deeply.  That’s far enough.”  Thinking deeply about God is a worshipful and prayerful act, which is clearly shown in writings like Augustine’s Confessions or Anselm’s formulation of the ontological argument, so quick appeals to mystery can stop us from doing something that is worshipful and glorifying to God.
  2. Quick appeals to mystery also invalidate people’s legitimate questions about God.  Those appeals can come off as saying “Don’t ask those questions.”  I think that if God and theology are important to people, then it is good for them to ask questions and we should help cultivate a desire to ask questions and seek to understand God better.  We do not want to discourage people from asking those questions.
  3. Finally, quick appeals to mystery can make God look absurd.  If a pastor or small group leader continually uses quick appeals to mystery as a response to deep questions about God’s nature and his actions in the world, it will make it seem like there is no answer to those questions, which makes the concept of God look more and more incoherent and ridiculous.  If there is anything that the God of Christianity is not, it’s absurd, incoherent, and ridiculous.  People probably think that appealing to God’s mystery is a way of glorifying God because it acknowledges His infinite nature.  This is not wrong, but using appeals to mystery as a lazy response to legitimate questions can actually have the opposite effect and make it look like there is no answers to these questions because the concept of God, in actuality, doesn’t make sense.

Do the Hard Work

Again, I am not saying that God is not significantly mysterious to us.  He is infinite and we are limited beings who can hardly even comprehend our own world.  I also understand that I have not answered every question one may have about this topic.  When is an appeal to mystery “quick?”  How do we know when we are relying too much on human reason to understand God perfectly?  These are good questions and I do not have answers.  My problem is when appeals to mystery lead to laziness and discourage deep thinking about God.  If you are in a position of leadership in the church or have the opportunity to talk about your faith with non-believers, take the questions about God seriously and be willing to do the deep thinking that we ought to do about our Lord.

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