Confusion and Mystery


Nancy—the leader of my Dangerous Women group—gave us an assignment in December: Ask the Lord to reveal to you a personal theme for the upcoming year.

I noticed on Facebook that several men and women I knew were doing something like this. I saw words like rest and hope and I thought, “This could be really cool.”

So I asked the Lord what my theme for 2011 might be. I struggled with the interaction at first. So I told the Lord, “This is really confusing.” And I feel like I heard him say, “That’s it. Your word is confusion.”

And my response was, “Really?!! Confusion? That doesn’t sound very desirable. Let alone spiritual.”

And so we went on, the Lord and I, back and forth, for almost a month. But the word confusion loomed so large in my mind I didn’t see how it could be anything else. Confusion it was.

About a week later I read a quote about the mysterious nature of God and I thought, “You know, mystery and confusion are kind of cousins. Confusion carries the idea of an internal struggle, while mystery seems to imply more of a rest or acceptance. Maybe my theme was supposed to be mystery?”

Plus, mystery sounded a lot more spiritual than confusion.

I settled on adding mystery to confusion instead of replacing the one with the other. It’s been interesting to see where those themes come up in my life now that I’m looking for them. This quote from Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters popped out at me this week. (It’s written as though God were talking to one of His followers):

“Never ignore your struggle with how I do things. Ask every question that rises in your heart as you live in this world. But prepare yourself to struggle even more with My response. You must stumble in confusion before you dance with joy.”

God doesn’t often give me the answers I want. He doesn’t have to explain Himself to me or anyone else. The longer I walk with God, the more mysterious and confusing He becomes. There are fewer things I know for sure. I have to walk more and more by faith.

When I experience the confusion and mystery of God, my first temptation is to try to figure it all out, to organize God into a box. Or when that becomes overwhelming (because it’s impossible) I simply want to shut down, tune out, escape.

But I think real growth means engaging in the struggle of confusion, and embracing the mystery, even when it makes me feel out of control.


When I teach my kids about God I have to be very careful.

When my 7-year-old asks questions like, “Well, why did God even create Satan and hell in the first place?” I could give my son the “correct” theological response. But what he’s really asking is, “Isn’t God supposed to be good? And powerful? And wise? Why would He do it that way?”

He’s engaging in the struggle. He’s asking the questions we all ask.

“Why didn’t He…?”

“Why couldn’t I…?”

“Why won’t He…?”

“Why do I have to…?

The real answer to these questions is, “I don’t know.”

Sometimes we like to pretend we understand God and how He works. We tell a neat story about how we can see why God did such and such in our past…how it all makes sense now. But the truth is we still don’t really know the answer to the question, “Why?”

Only God knows. And He is mysterious and confusing.


In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which I’m presently reading), Harry is engaging in the struggle. He doesn’t understand why Dumbledore—the good and wise wizard leader—is making the decisions he is. Why does Harry have to stay with his awful aunt and uncle during the summer break? Why won’t Dumbledore answer his questions, or comfort him in his time of need? Why didn’t Dumbledore appoint him to the role of prefect, but chose Ron and Hermione instead?

When he asks Mrs. Weasley one of these questions, she replies, “Dumbledore must have had his reasons.”

Harry: Asking the questions, walking forward through doubt and anger and fear and loneliness. He’s tempted to turn away, but he doesn’t quite. Maybe because he has nowhere else to go.

Mrs. Weasley: Resting in her knowledge and experience in Dumbledore’s past wisdom, goodness, and power, and following him even when she doesn’t understand him.

Engaging with the confusion. Embracing the mystery.

It could be quite a year ahead.

5 thoughts on “Confusion and Mystery

  1. great thoughts.

    that book was my favorite of the series (in a tie with the last one at least). I even made the leadership coaching group I'm doing watch the movie a couple months ago 🙂 Genius illustrations of congregational systems!


  2. Brian, I have thought of you a dozen times while reading “Phoenix.” I keep thinking, “Oh, Brian would have a heyday with all the systems dysfunction going on here!” Have you blogged about it? I'll have to check when I'm done with the book.


  3. can't remember what I've done – you could search harry potter at my blog and I know at least a couple would pop up. The only one that comes to my mind was from Goblet of Fire in the moment called something like “A parting of the ways”

    Glad you're enjoying them


  4. Ok, I love, love, love this post. Don't know how I'm just now reading it, but I really appreciate your insights here.
    This is my favorite line: “But I think real growth means engaging in the struggle of confusion, and embracing the mystery, even when it makes me feel out of control.” Yes. Exactly.
    I have realized that I know squat in light of eternity. Recently, I've started to think about how I don't even really know what is a “blessing” in my life, beyond some really basic things. Humanly, I feel blessed when I have good days and not very blessed when things are hard, but I have no idea what those things are working in me and for me eternally.
    And I never will in this life, despite my desire to tell a “neat story” about it, as you say.
    So thanks for writing this.

    I think you're neat-o. And I love me some Harry Potter.


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