gratitude & hoopla: The Mystery of the Faith

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

15.5.06

The Mystery of the Faith

When in doubt, blog the Gospel. That's my blogging rule-of-thumb.

So I'm sitting here wondering what to blog about, and I remember, oh yeah, that's right, blog the Gospel!

And then I think of my Bible-reading this morning. First Timothy, chapter 3. Paul uses the word "mystery." He uses it twice. At verse 9, speaking of the qualifications for deacons:
They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
And it surprised me here that Paul, in speaking of the fundamental qualifications for serving in a position of authority, doesn't simply say, they must hold to the faith with a clear conscience, which I'm sure would have sufficed to convey his basic meaning, but he says, the mystery of the faith. They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

I want to pause over this word. It strikes me that we can grow so familiar with formulas of our faith that we no longer understand it as "mystery." Later, at verse 16, Paul uses the word again: "the mystery of godliness."

It's a shorthand phrase for our confession, for all that we believe. In one form or another, by one dead-end method or another, men had pursued the ill-defined will-of-the-wisp, godliness, for centuries. And never captured it. But even for those who found it, like Abraham, like Moses, it remained a mystery. Moses walked with God, yes, and yet God, he knew, was always infinitely more, was always other, was always beyond. In godliness we find something right here in, as Eugene Peterson calls it, "the walking-around-world," that is nevertheless strange, connecting us to the utterly above and beyond, the unknowable, untouchable, and ultimately impossible to comprehend.

In another place Paul speaks of this same mystery, the mystery of faith, the mystery of Godliness, as "Christ in you, the hope of glory." That's Colossians 1:27. We Christians are to be hotspots of the eternal and unknowable at work in the ordinary walking-around world. I ask myself, is it true of me? Have I been, in my daily dealings with others, mysterious? I don't mean to be glibly mystical here, but I'm supposed to be a connecting-point to heavenly things.

Well, let us not drain the mystery out of the Gospel. Let us not think it is merely a matter of words, assertions, confessions, etc. God's ultimate plan is to draw us to Him, and that is a mysterious thing to say and believe. This is what we proclaim, a mystery. A secret knowledge now revealed and yet remaining, nevertheless, quite strange, deeply mysterious.

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