Living the Mystery

One theme in our considerations that has run through them like a thread has been the notion of mystery, and these considerations about the fundamental place of wonder in man’s searching after truth return us to this theme. For, to the idea of the permanent place of wonder (in contrast with doubt) corresponds the notion of the essentially irreducible character of mystery. A problem can be solved, a puzzle can be unravelled; but a mystery, if it is truly a mystery, remains. Christians want to speak of the centre of their faith as being the mystery of God in Christ. By that they mean that the problem of existence, the mystery of the ultimate, is truly a mystery: it cannot be unravelled. To say that the problem of existence is the mystery of the ultimate is to say that God exists. If the problem of existence can be solved, then there is no need to think of God or bring him into the picture. But to think of Gos is not to solve the problem of existence (as Heidegger thought it did when he maintained that theism was a way of evading the ultimate metaphysical question—Why is there anything and not rather nothing?—by giving a simple ‘answer’), but to hold us before the mystery of being. Christians do not simply believe in the mystery of God, but the mystery of God in Christ: they believe that in the life and death of a man called Jesus of Nazareth, God lived among us a human life. The mystery of God is not simply the problem of transcendence, nor is it even simply the mystery of immanence—the mystery of intimations of the beyond in the here and now; rather the mystery of God is disclosed in a human life that was lived in history. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the place where we meet with the mystery of God. ‘Immensity cloister’d in thy dear womb’—the mystery of the ultimate is met with in the particular: not just in the way that the divine is there for us to discern in any particular, but present actively, seeking us out, making itself known to us. Here, more than anywhere else, we realize the true character of mystery: mystery not just as the focus for our questioning and investigating, but mystery as that which questions us, which calls us to account.

Fr Andrew Louth. Discerning the Mystery pp 144-145

In another sense (and this draws on much of the work of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, another Orthodox theologian), the true character of the mystery of God is that it is communion, communion precisely between the Divine and the human realms, a communion driven and energized and actualized by love. For it is only in love that this mystery of communion is sustained. What communion do we have with our fellow man if we have no love for him? It is no communion at all when the other is no longer mysterious, but ignored or denigrated, and personhood is reduced to bestial instinct and animal habit. What communion could we possibly have with God had it not been for His love? It was an act of His love to create us, and then to become one of us, and to die as one of us—the ultimate communion—so as to save us and to continue that communion with us for ages of ages. What communion is it when we fail to respond to precisely that signal act of love on the part of God, when we resist the transformative nature of this communion, and persist in our solitude? In this we are called to account by love. Communion is the mystery of love. And just as we must be stricken with wonder by this abyss of God’s love, this greatest of all mysteries, so should we respond with love. Just as God became man, so we need also to love both God and man, if we are to love properly. Remember to love one another as I have loved you, He said, and Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. It is a tall order, but not a command that such a One who loves us and who keeps close to us in communion is unable to help us to achieve. The help is there to draw upon, if drawn in love.

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