I am not a huge fan of surprises, mostly because if you like those kinds of things then you are expected to pull off grand surprises for people in your life and that just seems like a lot of work. However, I do tend to like surprises that have been planned for me. I am sure there have been a few over the years–like when I found out I was going to be a dad–but the one that really sticks in my mind was a surprise party for my 40th birthday.
When I walked into the back room of that restaurant and, after a couple minutes of confusion, realized what all my friends were doing there, I was floored. To be honest, I felt a little stupid for not having caught on earlier, but mostly I felt loved. That moment affected how I view myself in some ways. People went to a lot of effort to be there, to keep me in the dark for a time: the mystery and the surprise were all a part of their caring about me. Surprise takes effort. And their effort let me know that they really cared about me.
Maybe that’s why we love to surprise people–when the surprise, the mystery is finally revealed, we understand somehow that that moment is part of who we view this person to be. We keep presents hidden and secret and wrapped up, because we want people to experience the joy of discovery. It is part of our love for them.
Maybe this is what God was thinking when–for generations–he kept the mystery of Christ from not only his own people, Israel, but also from the Gentiles. God kept his distance, shrouded, if you will, unapproachable, distant. I remember Mount Sinai, how it was covered in a thick cloud as Moses and the Israelites waited for the commandments, the rules that would define how they could and would relate to God.
But it would not always be this way; God had a secret
In Ephesians 3, Paul writes that “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed…” (3:4-5). There is a shift, a surprise in how God wants to relate to us. And not only is the new relationship good for us, so is the discovery of it. If I can say it this way: not only is the gift good, but also the unwrapping of that gift.
Paul describes the two mysteries of God: “In [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph 3:12); and secondly, we have from God a “love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). In and of themselves, these are great gifts–access to God directly and limitless love–but I think the discovery, the uncovering of this is equally thrilling.
Maybe that’s why it is Paul’s prayer that they would “know” God’s love, understand this mystery. The word he uses here is actually a Jewish idiom (ginosko) for the way in which a man knows his wife. That’s a thrill if ever there was one, especially the honeymoon, especially for those who have never experienced it before.
And that is why I think we need mystery and why God wants us to find it in Christ.