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Part 3: Moving into Mystery

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord for this time forth and forevermore.” Ps.131(ESV)

 

Moving into Mystery: Replacing Certainty and Answers With Faith and Wonder

The Posture of Wisdom

It is said there is wisdom in our senior years. Education, experience, and reflection yield insight reserved for the second half of life. What needs to be recognized is that senior sages are not simply a well of answers. They also learn to embrace the mystery of life. Their wisdom is evident in becoming comfortable with not knowing the answers. The Psalm above reflects the wise acknowledgement that there are things above our understanding. Rather than trying to solve the questions that can’t be solved, the writer nestles into the arms of God, and is quieted by the hope placed in Him. A peaceful posture of wisdom.

These articles are meant to reflect and discuss some of the more subtle shifts we face through our increasing years. Subtle doesn’t suggest trivial. These transitions are vital for our spiritual growth. They are steppingstones placed by God in the path of our development. We navigate the crossing from youth to maturity by stepping on each and moving forward. Some of the larger rocks we tread are:

  • resting in an identity of being over an identity of doing.

  • moving from certainty to mystery by the exercise of faith.

  • yielding our independence to dependence upon others.

  • shifting from wrestling with sins to wrestling with God.

 Since aging is both inevitable and desirous (getting older is better than not getting older!), these articles can benefit those on the near and far side of 50. They address what is and what is coming.

 

Building Our Database          

It is evident that early life is about finding answers. We learn to call things by their proper name. We discover how to open doors, find our way home from the park and make sense of text on a page. Eventually, we go to school and delve into basic sciences, math and geography – even if it is just naming our colours, knowing our numbers or memorizing our address. We are taught not just what the answers are, but how to find the answers when we don’t know. We read, get a library card and access the internet. As we mature, we develop job skills, fix problems, resolve difficulties, find answers for both the practical and theoretical. All of this is necessary and helpful, but it is also limited. No one can discover all there is to discover. Still, youthful confidence challenges the boundaries. We grow with the mindset that all of life is discoverable. The scientific method, strides in technology and global resource of data encourage the idea that every question can be answered. We begin to think that every question has to be answered. The near side of 50 can be confident, certain, perhaps arrogant. Then slowly, something happens.

 

The Older I Get, the Less I Know

It is common, on the far side of 50, to recognize that some questions have no answer. Some issues of life can’t be resolved. Not every problem can be fixed. Aging is not a journey into ignorance. The far side of 50 doesn’t disregard its garnered wisdom, but makes room for mystery. What mystery?

 

The Mystery of Life’s Trajectory

Those on the far side of 50 have been surprised, perhaps disappointed, by the way life unfolds. Some of their plans were inadequate, their dreams misguided, their expectations unfulfilled. Life doesn’t follow a map. The right answers don’t always offer the preferred results. It’s not that their life landed in the wrong place, but in a place that they didn’t predict. And wisdom acknowledges the mystery of their life.

 

The Mystery of Our Own Heart

We think we know ourselves well at the age of 25-30. We fill out our resume for a prospective employer as if it was the definition of who we are. But as Scripture asks, “Who can know the heart?” Our interior life is murky, and it takes time for the silt to settle. Our motives, aspirations, core strengths and weaknesses are hidden in the recesses of our soul. They are known better in our second half.

 

The Mystery of God

The Scriptures are true. The works of God can be traced in history and personal experience. But that doesn’t mean that we have God all figured out. His ways are beyond us. His nature can confound us. It’s common in our evangelical culture to project that we have all the answers about God. We can treat God like a deduction, reasoned by our own insight. I do not doubt that God has revealed Himself by Scripture, through nature and in His Son, but neither do I doubt that there is more to an infinite God than we can imagine. He is a mystery.

 

Shifting From Certainty to Faith

It is almost stereotypical. Many beyond 50 confess that some things they were certain about have become less certain. That is not a denial or compromise of earlier wisdom, but a recognition of mystery. Earlier answers seem unsuited to the reality now faced. Some black and white has blended into grey. Whereas we used to feel like Job’s friends, quick with certain answers, we now identify more with Job, having more questions than answers. Our certitude grows thin and ceases to be effective protection and guidance for life. But that is good news. Certitude has never been the fuel for spiritual living. Faith is and always will be. We live by faith in God, His Word and purposes. We are not called to have all the answers. We are called to trust.

 

The Work of Mystery

Embracing the mystery found in living offers significant blessings. Mystery feeds humility. We can set aside our arrogant confidences and admit that we don’t have everything worked out. We can be the child in God’s arms, without squirming. Mystery invites faith. We make a spiritual journey without seeing around the corner. We face situations that we didn’t predict or prepare for. We live with paradox and thin places in our theology. We throw reason and facts at our fears, but they are unfazed. In all this mystery, faith is the answer we need. Faith is what God smiles at. Mystery promotes wonder and awe. Once you know how a magic trick is done, the magician’s performance loses appeal. God’s ways are beyond us. He is an eternal mystery. So, God will never be boring. The mystery of God leaves space for awe and delight. It leaves room for worship.

 

Do What?

The shift from certainty to faith through the mystery of life and God is not automatic. It’s an invitation we must welcome and grow into. How?

  • Free yourself now from the obligation to answer every question, resolve every puzzle and fix every problem. If you are driven by a quest for certainty, you are heading towards a dead end. Only faith is strong enough to carry us through life and into eternity.

  • Note the places of certainty and uncertainty in your life. Your beliefs. Your relationships. Your plans. Your expectations. Once you have named them, hold them up before God in prayer. Let His Spirit and Word guide you into faith.
  • Consider the effects of denying mystery. The distance between certitude and arrogance is small. People who are always right tend to have little compassion for those who struggle. The more one strives for certitude in all things, the more anxious they become in an uncertain world.

So far, we’ve spoken of the shift of our identity as we age. We have named the place and contribution mystery has as we move through life. The next article will focus on the inevitable transition of growing up – from dependence to independence and back to dependence once more.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!

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