Biblical Enigma Examples: What Christian Writers Can Learn from them

Peter’s Enigmatic Vision

The Apostle Peter saw a vision of unclean creatures being lowered down from heaven and he heard a voice  saying “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” This is one of many biblical enigma examples. The Bible is full of them.

When Peter saw this vision, he said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:10–15 )

The dietary laws of the Old Testament reminded the Jews that they must reject impurity and be separate as a people. But now that Christ had made him a fisher of men, Peter was about to learn that God was declaring the Gentiles clean.

What is interesting about the Bible’s prophetic revelations is that God consistently chooses the use of enigmatic visions.

Why Visions and Enigmas?

Have you ever wondered about the purposes behind God’s use of Enigmas to communicate His will? God could have said, “Peter, I am about to call the Gentiles into the Church. Welcome them as brothers.” Instead, this message came in the form of an enigmatic vision that left Peter pondering about  its meaning. Why does God do this?

Even though human nature craves clarity, God actually prefers enigmatic ways to communicate to prophets. Moses was the exception that proves the rule about this. In Numbers 12 God says:

[H]ear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord.(Numbers 12:6–8). Why is that the case?

I believe the best answer is this: When the truth comes by way of dreams, symbols, omens, and foreshadowing. It leads us to a deeper understanding of spiritual truth by forcing us to construct a complete foundation of understanding, making us work to discover multiple layers of meaning. Enigmatic truth is the way of the artist. Enigmatic beauty makes truth experiential and full of nuance and mystery that keeps us on the road to discovery.

Enigmatic beauty provokes an investigation and titillates us with the promise of discovery. In a painting, enigmatic beauty may manifest itself in the form of an image presented in a manner that is mysterious or cryptic. In a novel or a theatrical performance, it is the essence of a plot. In music, it is an well chosen lyric or a dissonant chord.

Enigmas do much more than simply inform. Enigmas fire the imagination and send it on a quest for discovery. Biblical enigmas, like proverbs and visions, lead us to a level of wisdom that is not generally accessible through rote doctrine. That is why God uses them.

The Problem with Abstract Clarity

The human desire to unlock mysteries is basic to our nature. Although doctrinal clarity gives us satisfaction and finality, God would not have us depend on doctrinal statements for real spiritual understanding. He gives us a work of mysteries and riddles for that—the Holy Bible.

In the words of Solomon, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). Solomon also described his search for wisdom in this way: “I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised” (Ecclesiastes 1:12–13).

There is an essential path to enlightenment that comes from the mental and spiritual exercise of unpacking enigmas. This is why the Bible is so full of it. Bible expositors have their role. Their ministry is the abstract ministry of light.

But what the Bible mostly gives us is a ministry of shadows, and If you boil away the all the poetry and mystery in God’s word to reduce it to clearly stated doctrines of absolute abstract clarity, what you risk ending up with is legalism, methodology, pietism, and pragmatism.

That is why the definitive works of theologians will never replace the need for God’s people to immerse themselves in God’s word, the Bible. What is more mysterious than God himself? His ways are inscrutable, His face no man can behold, and His name is ineffable? There is a shroud of mystery that remains over all that is holy to God.

Revelation in the Essence of Life

The Bible, rightly studied, engulfs us in mystery. Much of the dynamic strength of a biblical culture is derived from the proper respect for certain principles that are ultimately taken on faith and also utterly shrouded in mystery.

True wisdom must be woven from the fiber of creation itself through life experience. That is the power of a story. It vicariously inserts the reader into an experience of a character and his interactions with other characters.

Experiential truth is rooted in God’s ubiquitous works of creation, manifested as God’s likeness in man and is bound up in our very existence.

Summary

The enigmatic pathways of revelation that are clearly at work in natural revelation and scripture itself imply a lot about stylistic tools that can empower a writer if he knows how to use them.

Put readers in the story with such detail that it gives them a vicarious experience of being there. This includes the thoughts and inner conflicts of a character as a part of character development.

Use omens, foreshadowings, and symbols and don’t explain them. Let these elements go incognito. Enigmas have to be placed in the mind and hatched out over time in the mind of the reader.

3 thoughts on “Biblical Enigma Examples: What Christian Writers Can Learn from them”

  1. Hi
    I really like the way you explain that God and Jesus are in essence, storytellers. Rather than laying down the law with rules and regulations and revealing divine plans in abstract ideas, God tells a story and paints a picture. This is, indeed, the artists way. Much greater depth is achievable. In addition, people of all ages can understand and learn from the stories and symbols from the place they inhabit in life.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I am currently studying about Christianity and have seen many enigmas within the Bible. I felt very confused by many phrases, and the example that you had given was one of them. Now that you have explained that God was telling Peter that he should start spreading teachings to the Gentiles, I am able to see the same words in a different light.

    I will definitely think and ponder deeper about God’s words whenever I revisit the Bible.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Rachel. The Bible really is a remarkable book. It is impossible to appreciate just how remarkable it is until you study it deeply. You are in for a wondrous journey. May God bless you beyond your wildest imagination!

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