I'm a sucker for a good mystery. Give me an Agatha Christie novel and I'll hibernate for hours. And if the TV Guide announces a mystery marathon, I'm powerless to move a muscle.
I'm not sure where this fascination for mysteries began. Probably in high school. Most likely in Algebra class.
Algebra was always a complete mystery to me. I mean, who in their right mind thought up that stuff? If the right side of the human brain houses our emotional and artistic make-up, and the left side stores our empirical and logical data, where do the completely absurd ideas like algebra come from?
Now, in case you've forgotten, allow me to sneak into your suppressed high school nightmares to resurrect a typical algebra mystery question. Ready? Here goes:
If Don has 4 marbles, and Doug has 5 marbles, how many marbles does Thelma have?
I'm inclined to say, "None. Thelma lost her marbles."
Mystery questions are nothing new to those of us in ministry. In fact, they pop up most every Sunday. Parishioners line-up to play their innocent version of Stump the Pastor with seemingly unanswerable questions.
It's not that they're trying to embarrass or trick us; they simply have good questions that need resolve. Truth is, it's been that way for centuries.
I can see Galileo, a card-carrying member of the established church in the 1600's, pulling his list of mystery questions out from his hip pocket while entering the confession booth at the local parish: "Is it ok if I contradict the Church with my new scientific data?" he asks. "And is it ok if I prove that the earth rotates around the sun rather than vice versa, like you guys teach? And did you know that the earth is not the center of the universe but a rather small, non-descript planet? And where did you guys come up with the idea that…"
Ultimately, Galileo's questions earned him a forced march to Rome to stand trial before a less-than-amused Pope. And whereas the general consensus among the Cardinals was to rid Galileo of his blasphemous head, the Pope settled for a ban on all his writings—a ban which lasted for two centuries.
Mystery questions, it would appear, didn't play well at the Vatican.
During our lifetime another astronomer, Carl Sagan, challenged the Church with his own brand of mystery questions, followed by his self-assured answers. "You ask me, 'Is there more out there than the cosmos? Is there a higher being to whom we should consider when looking at the heavens?' I tell you emphatically, no. The cosmos is all that is, ever was, or ever will be."
Having died twenty-plus years ago, I'm confident Sagan now knows there's more, much more out there … such as a cosmic Creator.
Certainly a mystery question you and I are prone to ask is: Why did God pick us to champion His timeless message? Of all the possible options, why would He choose imperfect humans to proclaim His perfect Word? After all, other featured items of His creation do a much better job telling the story. For example, "The heavens [perfectly] declare the glory of God." He could have skipped us altogether. So, why would He choose simple, inadequate, mortal, flawed and fallible beings to showcase His Word to the world?
Sorry. There's no good answer.
Except this: God chose the nobodies of this world so that any boasting could only be about Him. Though we stand in His light as we preach the word, we must never block His beauty. We're to simply use our spoken word to proclaim His written word to showcase the Incarnate Word. And then step aside so He can be seen.
And what a magnificent sight He is! There's no question about that!