The Heuristic Value of Mystery in Relation to Suffering and Evil

Though the ways of God may be inscrutable, they are not gratuitous (Rom 11:33-36).
Our cognitive and moral equipment is handicapped and our interpretive skills are deficient. Those thundering questions God levels against Job show the limitations of our knowledge and abilities (Job 38-42). Mystery stands in the gap. At present “we know in part” (1 Cor 13:9). Even Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46).

In fact, not only are God’s ways intellectually complex, they are morally profound. Quite simply we don’t have the necessary tools to grasp all that God is doing through hardship and affliction. And, it is because we’re not prepared for the implications of suffering and evil that God covers them in a shroud of mystery. Mystery, therefore, is God’s gift to us. It is set alongside the tools of faith and trust, which are also God’s gifts!

Consider this. Is it reasonable to expect that more knowledge or further explanation will abate or even soften the blow from our psychological pain issuing from suffering and evil? It is wholly unlikely, therefore, that more information will be a silver bullet or panacea. Knowing this, we can respect what others might be going through (Pr 14:10) and not try to be the strength that only faith provides or the comfort that only God gives. Our abilities to help others, or even ourselves, is, at best, imperfect and incomplete.

It is not inconceivable that what seems impossible and senseless to us makes perfect sense in the plan and purposes of God. Therefore, a fuller explanation of God’s purposes may be withheld from us until such time that we are able to receive it (compare Mk 8:31-33; Lk 9:44-45 with Acts 2:23 or Gen 22 with Rom 4).

The Christian answer to the mystery of suffering and evil is not more knowledge, but the very presence of Christ as Immanuel, God with us (Mt 1:23). There’s a sense in which we’ve no right to claim “surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” until we have first embraced our “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Only then will we know “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

As we look into the eyes of evil and lean in on mystery, we find a larger vision of it all. We acknowledge the de facto, yet we set our eyes on the de jure. We experience the real, but our hearts remain fixed on the ideal. In gaining heaven’s perspective, we make sense of our earthly journey. We find, in the end, that the glory and goodness of God eclipses all the darkness and is the one light that remains …. forever.

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