Mystery

, posted by Martin Glynn

The biblical concept of mystery is simple. Mystery is an aspect of God’s plan which has not been revealed to humanity. Indeed, the biblical usage of mystery is always in anticipation of the mystery’s revelation. Therefore, biblically, the concept of mystery is intimately connected to revelation.

But we’re not here to talk about the Bible. We’re here to talk about Calvinism, something completely different.

The theological definition comes out of the early Christian fathers, and it continues to be heavily used in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Calvinism. This definition would be: a mystery is any aspect of God, of God’s activity, or of God’s plan which is beyond humanity’s capacity to understand, due to either a lack of intellectual prowess or contextual accessibility.

Many would say that the very concept of mystery is nothing more than a theological cop-out. Here, I would disagree. There are some things which are beyond the human capacity to understand. For instance, no human can completely appreciate the subtleties of how Christ’s divine and human nature interact. Though there are some things we can say about that interaction, we cannot obtain perfect understanding.

However, that is the kind of thing the concept should be reserved for: understanding something which is beyond the realm of human experience and measurability. This is what I meant before by contextual accessibility: we don’t have access to the full context of it. But many have used the concept of mystery as a cop-out; as a tool to avoid theological accountability.

Many Calvinists have used this concept in such a way. They claim that God causes humans to perform certain acts by way of His absolute predestination of all things. They then go on and claim that God is not responsible for sin because the human wanted to sin. However, when the Arminian points out that God is the one who caused the event to happen, the Calvinist starts talking about mystery. I would say this is a cop-out.

But that’s hypocritical they would say. Arminians have a ‘mystery’ at the heart of their theology as well. They claim that God knows everything which is to happen, and yet, He does not cause it. How can a God who can do anything, and knows everything, not be the cause for what occurs?

To this, I have two points. First, Arminians do not tend to claim that it is a mystery. Knowledge does not demand causation. Though omniscience and omnipotence can easily lead to determinism, it is not sufficient for determinism, since God still has a choice whether He is to act, and the methods that He chooses for Himself to operate within. A Calvinist may not find this a sufficient answer, but it is for us.

Second, there is a legitimacy to say that we do not perfectly understand the subtleties of how God’s omniscience and omnipotence interact with each other. No human being has ever experienced either omniscience or omnipotence, so we do not understand either completely on their own, let alone how they interact. Compare that to the Calvinists’ claim that there is a mystery in how causality and morality interact. Not only does causation and morality exist within the human sphere, and not only have humans done extensive examinations of both subjects, we are very familiar with their interaction. We know how these things work. A claim that causation and morality interact differently for God is an assertion without merit. Yet somehow Calvinists feel that they are allowed to throw the mystery card while calling our theology ‘inconsistent’.

I cannot comprehend how Calvinists feel that they can get away with this. They have far less justification for claiming mystery than we do, and we don’t even do so. For the past few years, Calvinists on the internet have been allowed to make whatever assertions they have wanted without being challenged. I would say that at least this assertion should be thrown out.