I was recently watching a documentary about the Sound of Music and was reminded of one of its songs- which has a most peculiar title: `How do you solve a problem like Maria?` My recollection is that it appears in the story because the nuns are struggling to cope with Maria`s unorthodox behaviour. She clearly doesn`t fit in.
All of this started me thinking about how many conversations involve passing comment on peoples` behaviour, character and foibles which we find odd, curious, eccentric or hard to fathom. So much so that it sometimes seems that other people were set on this earth to perplex us.
This is especially true, if the vast literature is to be believed, when it comes to relationships between the sexes. Marriage is legitimately described as a mystery- by which we mean more than `it`s a mystery what she sees in him`. And one author even suggested that we, metaphorically at any rate, come from entirely different planets. Women can`t read maps; men never ask for directions….. you know the story.
However, although we kick against the inconvenience of other people there is wisdom in recognising that we will never really fathom or understand another. People are not a problem to be solved. They are in the best sense a mystery. We cannot control others and our attempts to do so only diminish them and increase our frustration.
Which makes me think we face a similar problem in matters of faith. I notice, for instance, that in relation to our Father God, so many people, especially the sceptics, will begin their exploration using the language of proof and evidence rather than relationship. This comes about because of our desire to somehow get a `handle` on this God. “If only” we suggest, “He would show up or act in a way we find coherent, reasonable or o lie with our way of thinking- then all would be well; then we would believe”- or so we think.
But here`s the mystery. He doesn`t meet our expectations. In short, this is another relationship where we`re not in control and we`re foolhardy to persist as if God were a problem to solve. And it isn`t, in my view, slippery or evasive to use the word mystery in relation to faith. It`s just another way of reminding us of how the relationship works.
This is not to say that we are in ignorance- far from it. The Gospel is that in Christ, God has made himself known. But there is always a sense of mystery- a sense of something yet to be revealed. A sense, if we`re on the right lines- that leads us to reverence and silence. A reverence and a silence we would do well to adopt more in our human relationships.
At the end of the book of Job, after much struggling and wrestling with the character and intentions of God, we hear the following:
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’ Job 42.1-6