I’ve been reflecting lately on the nature of revelation, and the ways in which God speaks to us, with one particular focus: the element of mystery.
Mystery is a Biblical idea and word. The book of Daniel features the idea fairly prominently in speaking more generally of the subject of revelation and prophecy. We find phrases such as that which Nebuchadnezzar spoke to Daniel: “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” (Dan 2:47) Earlier in the chapter when it says that the mystery was revealed to Daniel, he uses other language which might be thought of as synonymous with ‘mystery’ – “It is He [God] who reveals the profound and hidden things…”
This general idea picks up on a few other verses from the Old Testament which speak also of hidden things being revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong to the Lord or God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever…” Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” There is a variation in language between God revealing and us searching out but I don’t think the ideas can be wholly separated. Of course God can hide Himself, but He deliberately chooses to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with a whole heart. They seek and He reveals (Jeremiah 29:13-14; Matthew 7:7-8).
Paul picks up on Daniel’s language of mystery and uses it quite extensively in his letters. In particular we find him speaking of the mystery of the addition of Gentiles to the people of God (eg. Ephesians 3:1-10). This isn’t the only mystery though. Another one is that it’s “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) Why are these things “mysteries”? Because for a time, these things were hidden (Ephesians 3:5). That seems to be Paul’s understanding of the idea. They were hidden for a while, then were revealed or discovered. A bit like a ‘mystery’ as we would usually think of it, involves something ultimately unknown for a while, until it is finally solved, and the unknown element becomes known, causing the pieces to slot into place.
Finally, more cognate language is found in key verses like Ephesians 1:17-19 when Paul speaks about a spirit of wisdom and revelation being granted, so that the eyes of the heart may be enlightened, and that things may become really, deeply known to the believer, that weren’t known before.
All of that provides a very brief framework for thinking about mystery in the context of revelation. It’s probably incomplete – I do have more complete material on the subject of revelation, which I can dig out if people wish (let me know in the comments).
But I have yet to make my point, so I’ll move on.
The actual point I wished to make, was to emphasise that there is often an element of mystery when God speaks to us. What do I mean by this, and why do I say it?
Here’s what I mean: many readers might be familiar with the idea of listening to God – either for your own life, someone else’s, or some sort of corporate context. When we do, He might give us a word or picture by which to speak to us. Just the very fact that we understand He speaks to us in pictures should encourage us in this area: God likes metaphorical, symbolic language. And so when someone receives a picture, they often naturally know that it needs interpreting.
And so I reach the question of why I’m bringing up the subject. I think it’s worth reminding ourselves what’s going on here – and to see if there’s further that we can go in exploring the ways God speaks to us. Say you see a waterfall cascading over someone and you believe this is something you should share with them (note: it’s always worth asking God if a word/picture should be shared or not, no matter how seemingly harmless). The interpretation probably won’t be that they should go and stand under a waterfall (though let’s not limit God – if that’s what He wants to say, fair enough!). But it’s more likely God will be saying that He wants to flood over and into them afresh, by His Holy Spirit. We know that the Bible uses pictures of water very often to speak of the Spirit (in Isaiah for example, the examples are all over the book!).
And this is the kind of simple picture that I will often hear shared in prayer meetings. But here’s my point: what ELSE is God saying? Because if we now remind ourselves that God is a revealer of mysteries, and that He uses pictoral language to speak, you have to wonder what’s going on if someone has a real easy time interpreting the pictures they receive, all the time.
This sounds harsh, and I apologise. It’s not like God won’t say something very simple to understand, but if this is always the case, perhaps we have just forgotten that there could be more behind what He has said, and that if we press in a bit further, we might get to it.
I think this lies behind what I’m trying to say: God wants us to press in further in our prophetic giftings. Paul spoke of the “unfathomable riches of Christ,” and said that in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were “hidden” – there is more to be explored! And so when He speaks to us in a way which is somehow mysterious, which we don’t immediately understand, the opportunity is there for deeper relationship. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that God is a God of relationship, so if there’s any opportunity to deepen our relationship with Him, He wants us to take it. So perhaps this is one reason why He speaks in coded language!
I must finish with encouragement: If we trust Him and believe Him and seek to follow Him, He isn’t going to befuddle us with incomprehensibilities. You will know the pleasure of hearing His voice and knowing that He has spoken to you – often you can feel the Spirit around when He is speaking – but you will also have to press in a bit more for the meaning.
Or perhaps I should finish with an example. Recently while visiting another church and having a meal with their worship team, we were praying at the end and I saw a picture of white chess pieces, and the Queen was particularly in focus. I didn’t know what this meant. It was slightly cloudy, but what I did was pray into it, and ask God to clarify it and bring out those elements which were important. In the end I discovered that He was speaking about the church (represented by the Queen) being clothed in white linen (white chess pieces) – which is purity, and the works of the saints, according to the book of Revelation. Did I still get all of it? I don’t think so, but I knew that when God spoke, He was drawing me into something relationally, and as I sought the meaning, it drew me closer to Him, and helped me to learn more how to listen to Him. I hope you are encouraged to do the same!