The Mystery of Faith
Posted by Jill Carattini, on March 1, 2013
Long before Horatio Caine or Gil Grissom made crime scene investigating a primetime enterprise, the Bloodhound Gang was “there on the double” “wherever there’s trouble,” a doughty group of junior detectives who used science to solve crimes. Written by Newbery Medal-winning children’s author Sid Fleischman, the Bloodhound Gang was a beloved segment on the PBS television program 3-2-1 Contact, and my first encounter with the almost unbearable suspension, “To be continued.” Thankfully, with the help of their knowledge of science, no mystery remained unsolved for long.
What I did not realize at the time, or through years of absorbing Unsolved Mysteries, CSI, and my own scientific pursuits, was the hold that simple word “solve” would have on my understanding of mystery. For the Bloodhound Gang, as much as for the philosophers of science who have given rise to the notion, science is the invasion and defeat of mystery. That is to say, for many scientists (though certainly not for all historically), mysteries are there to be solved and put finally beyond us.
One can see how such a notion fuels the perception that science and faith are at odds with one another; science being the conquest of mystery and faith the act of making room for it. For Steven Pinker, Harvard Professor and cognitive scientist, certain aspects of religious belief can be thought of as “desperate measure[s] that people resort to when the stakes are high and they’ve exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success.”(1) In other words, religion, like the story of the stork for parents not ready for their kids to know where babies come from, is simply a desperate attempt to explain away mystery, even if only by making space for it. And faith is thus seen as the grossly inferior CSI agent.
But what if mystery is less like a case for the Bloodhound Gang and more like the molecule of DNA they use to solve the crime? In so much of the culture in which we operate today, mystery is thought of in reductionistic terms. It is a momentary fascination that needs some higher reasoning, future information, or an hour of crime scene investigating to solve and explain. Everything we do technologically, medically, and scientifically is an attempt to put an end to mystery—to explain everything. But is that remotely possible? And would a reasonable explanation always dispel the mystery in the first place? As Thomas Huxley once put it, “[H]ow is it that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue?”(2) Is mystery always something to be solved?
In fact, the Greek word ‘mysterion,’ from which we get the word “mystery” does not necessarily mean something that is concealed (and hence, in need of our solution). It can also mean something that is revealed—as in a secret. In other words, mystery is not a problem in need of resolution, a concealed issue in need of an explanation. But mystery in this sense is something shown or given, albeit in a surprising, obscure way. It is in this sense of the word that early church father Tertullian spoke of the mystery of faith and ceremonial acts that join the believer to Christ—namely, our baptisms into his life, death, and resurrection, our celebration and consumption of his body and blood. It is a mystery, a gift, a fuller life revealed. Faith is not a theological solution to mystery in the CSI sense of the word; it is the celebration of this mystery—indeed, The mystery.
And at this, it is a mystery all the more captivating than those that can be solved in an hour or in a microscope. For it is a mystery that God has revealed to minds which don’t fully understand or yet fully see, a mystery worthy of a whole lifetime. It is mystery reminiscent of the words of Simone Weil: “God wears Himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it…it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of Him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.”(3)
Every Sunday before holding the bread by which we remember all that has been revealed in Christ, all that has been given in the cross, whether seen in part or partly understood, Christians profess in unison the mystery of faith. It is a mystery that does not need my solution, a mystery that continues to surprise, to nourish, and to reveal itself in life and in death: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Steven Pinker, “The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” presented at the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, October 29, 2004.
(2) T.H. Huxley & W.J. Youmans, The Elements of Physiology and Hygiene: A Text-book for Educational Institutions (New York: Appleton & Co., 1868), 178.
(3) Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Arthur Wills (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 140-141.