Meditations for Layfolks - Mysteries in Religion

If, as I am taught from my childhood, faith is concerned with mysteries, i.e. truths above reason, how is it possible for me to make them my own? It is obviously impossible for me to acquire such intimate knowledge of a thing that I cannot understand as will enable me to obtain any benefit from it. I may remember the phrase used and be careful not to confuse the way in which it is worded: I may be strictly accurate in my definitions, but what else can I do with it? It is above reason, therefore it is above life. The very element of mysteriousness seems to preclude every effort at making these truths really my own or enabling them in any real sense to have any influence over my actions. I can accept them with my intelligence, but they will remain merely truths and have no personal significance for me. Now, first of all, it is indeed clear that I shall never be able to understand at all adequately the truths of faith. Whenever I come in contact with God, I come in contact with something that is utterly above me. God is infinite and I am finite, so that truths about Him can never be packed into my limited intelligence. If I could understand God, I should be at least His equal. We say in English that when we know anything we have mastered it. That is a perfectly accurate expression; we can only know a thing when we are greater than it is, so that if I really knew God, I should be His equal or His master. Hence it is clear that it is impossible for me to understand God's being or His acts. There must be in everything He does a great deal that I can never comprehend nor ever hope to comprehend. Let me begin by realizing that I must expect when I come in contact with God to find very much that is above my understanding.

Therefore it follows that there will always be difficulties in the matter of faith. There will always be very much that I shall be able to understand whenever God reveals anything to me He will add to my stock of knowledge, but He will add also to the difficulties that surround my understanding of Him. He cannot help blinding me even while He enlightens me, not because of His limitations, but of mine. When, for example, He told me that He was One and alone as God, I could accept that as shedding light on the world; but when He told me that in that One Godhead there were Three Persons, He told me a great deal more about His own life, but at the same time He at once added to my perplexities. He taught me, yet He perplexed me; nay, the very fact of His revelation was itself the cause of my mystification. When I knew Him as the governor of the world and its stern judge, I found that no contradiction; but when He told me that He had become man, and had died for me, I was grateful for His revelation, but it added also to my difficulties. In other words, just because God is infinite and I am finite, it is to be expected that everything that He tells me of Himself, while increasing light, will increase darkness a the same time. In those countries where the sun is brightest, there are the deepest shadows; the very brilliance of the sun adds to the blackness of the shadow that it casts. I have, therefore, to repeat to myself that if all the ways of God were capable of explanation, then I should know for certain that He did not exist, but was the creation of man's mind. It is just because He is so difficult to comprehend that I know He is, indeed, a revealer of truth.

I arrive, then, at this, that these mysteries are apparent contradictions. He is all-holy, yet allows sin; all-loving, yet allows suffering; full of mercy, yet the builder of hell; all-powerful, yet leaving me perfect freedom; God, yet Man; innocent, yet the redeemer of His people; united to the Father by inseparability of nature, yet feeling on the cross the loneliness of His abandonment. What have I to do in the midst of all this contradiction? I am to take the mysteries to pieces. I shall find that it is because the two apparently opposed truths are taken together that their difficulty occurs. I must simply cling to both ends of the chain, and remain ignorant of the link that binds them together. He is One, He is Three; He is Man, He is God; He is merciful, He is just all these things I can follow separately, but conjointly they are impossible of understanding. However, there is this much comfort for me that I have to say to myself that I am not surprised that I do not understand Him. When people ask me how I can explain the existence of evil or sin, I can answer that I do not know; and that, granted there is a God, it is impossible that I should know. It is to be expected that, if God created the world, it would be impossible for the world to understand its Creator; but if the world began itself, then it would understand itself. Consequently I am content to go through life in trust conscious and, indeed, proclaiming as part of my belief, that the ways of God ought to be mysteries to me, yet not thereby depressed or losing confidence, but rather keeping tighter hold of the little knowledge of God that has come to me through revelation. It is good for me that when I go out at night I do not bump my head against the stars.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.