What a mass of mysteries life really is. What is our life? What is its purpose? Is this the only life we have?
Our earliest years are a blank to us. Even if we suffer abuse or hardship as a child we slowly become conscious that we are individuals with freedom in thought, speech, action, movement and choices.
We learn our place in the pecking order of life. Later we realise we are governed by time and space, and physical and emotional appetites. We learn too the value of relationships, and the fragility, brevity and unreliability of life on earth.
Death usually comes as a shocking reality to us in our early years. Perhaps it comes first through the death of a pet or a known person. Christians understand that spiritual sin is the cause of physical death. We believe in a life after death and that after death comes God's judgement to everyone.
But death seems so final, so unnecessary, such a horror and waste. Its seemingly random strikes can affect anyone - a stillborn babe, a newborn baby, a kind young child, a healthy young man, rich tyrants or wicked older people.
Death can creep up on us and pounce from behind or suddenly block our path in front and stop us dead in our tracks. And we remain ignorant of how it feels to die and what happens immediately after death.
Suffering also is no respecter of persons. Young or old, Christians or non- Christians, all can suffer in body, mind or spirit, from time to time or from trial to trial.
Christians rightly associate suffering with Satan and sin, but can also see biblical examples of godly people being tested through God - by God-sent suffering.
People tested in this way are like an elastic band being stretched to fulfil its purpose and potential. Abraham, David, Job, Mary and the apostles John and Paul, all endured and triumphed over suffering in one form or another.
Much suffering, God forgive us, is man-made. But it all, God help us, is God- permitted. As C. S. Lewis wrote, 'Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world'.
Wise King Solomon wrote, 'Do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves' (Proverbs 3: 11-12). Why does he discipline us? 'For our good, that we may share in his holiness' (Hebrews 12:10). Thank God that many people, as a result of their suffering, do repent and turn to God.
Surely the greatest mystery of all is God himself. Of all the mysteries in the universe the greatest is its Creator and Controller. For God is all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere-present, an awesome God indeed.
And he is 'from everlasting to everlasting'; he has no beginning and no end. He is the God of miracles and the God of the impossible.
God is not only great, he is good. The shortest bible sentence is 'Jesus wept' (John 11:35) and perhaps the second shortest is 'God is love' (1 John 4:8). He is so wise, so patient, so rich in mercy; and Jesus is full of 'grace and truth'.
As C.H.Spurgeon wrote of God, 'the wheel of his sovereignty still turns, but its axle is eternal love'. And God's love is not merely sentimental or easy-going, but it is holy, hard-working and hard-hitting. He is ready to exercise discipline and judgement, and himself paid the bitter cost of securing our redemption.
Almighty God is not only great and good, but holy, holy, holy.
Holy is the Father; holy is the Son; and holy is the Holy Spirit. We have reached another mystery here. God is spirit, but the one true God is in three persons; or three persons are in the one God - statements that defy our logic and mathematics.
And their relationship is one of love and unity or oneness. Moreover, they so identify with one another that we can speak of their inter-penetration. The Father and Jesus are one in essence and divinity.
It is the same with the Holy Spirit. He is at times called the 'Spirit of God' or the 'Spirit of Christ'. The very names of the triune God seem interchangeable.
For instance, Jesus said, 'Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father'. And Jesus, after dictating to John the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, ends each letter with, 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'.
Wonder of wonders and mystery of mysteries, this 'inter-penetration' even extends in a certain sense to Christians! For Jesus said, 'Remain in me, and I will remain in you' (John 15:14).
The whole Trinity of God is involved in our conversion. God sent his Son who died for our sins, and we are 'born again' by the Holy Spirit. And John 14:23 is an amazing verse: 'If anyone loves me [Jesus], he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'.
And how do the Father and the Son come to live in a Christian but by the Holy Spirit? So the Christian's body becomes 'the temple of the Holy Spirit' (1 Corinthians 6:19).
But for his self-revelation, we would know nothing of our Maker. But in nature, he speaks to us through the beauty, power and complexity of his creation. Morally, he speaks to us in our conscience with its sense of right and wrong. Indirectly, he speaks to us through all our changing circumstances.
Spiritually, God speaks to us supremely through the Bible with the Holy Spirit. Through God's acts and laws in the Bible, we learn much of God's personality.
Through Israel's roller-coaster history, we learn much of God's purposes and his stress on motives and relationships. Through the biographies of Jesus in the Gospels, we learn much of God's plans for the salvation and future of humans. Through the New Testament writers, we learn the explanation of divine mysteries.
But a person's conversion to Christ still remains a mystery. What a mystery that Jesus should be called the 'lamb of God', and call himself a 'ransom' and the 'good shepherd' who willingly dies for his foolish, wicked sheep.
How daring at first reading Paul's words appear in 2 Corinthians 5:17, that God made Jesus 'to be sin for us'! Well could Charles Wesley write, 'Tis mystery all; the Immortal dies! Who can explore his strange design?'
Certainly God's thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. Christians must hold on to the glorious riches of the mystery that Christ is in them as the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Hallelujah!
Philosophers down through the ages have pondered the meaning of life. What are we doing here? Where did we come from and where are we going to? But surely the greatest mystery of all is the person of God. If he is a God of love then why does he allow so much suffering in the world. And can we come to know him in a personal and meaningful way?
What is true Christianity? Can a logical, coherent and rational case be made out for the existence of Jesus Christ? Was he really the Son of God who came down from heaven to atone for the sufferings of mankind? And if he was, what relevance does that have to the everyday needs of 21st Century men and women?