Jacques Maritain somewhere makes a distinction that I find helpful between a ‘problem’ and a ‘mystery’. A problem admits of a solution – ‘can you prove Fermat’s last theorem?’ ‘is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?’ ‘does the Higgs boson exist, and if so, at what mass?’ – even if we don’t currently know the solution, it makes sense to look for a final answer which will lay the question to rest. A mystery, by contrast, can never be solved, only clarified; ‘what is beauty?’ might be a mystery: there is in principle no final answer, only a series of explorations (proportion; harmony; the sublime; …) which help us to think more clearly about the issue.
I propose (with no claim to originality) that the interesting questions in theology are all mysteries: we shouldn’t expect answers, so much as hints and definitions that serve to clarify our thoughts about the question.
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