God and Poe: unlikely duo of the mystery genre

“The Son of Man must suffer” (Luke 9:22, NASB)

The birth of the modern mystery-fiction genre was essentially an accident. Attributed to Edgar Alan Poe, his mystery stories were actually designed to be exercises in logic. One of his underlying motives was to make people think more critically at a time when urban centers, crime and police forces began to increase in early 19th century America, and where crimes often went unsolved.

The tales were well received, but largely because readers became enamored with and focused upon Poe’s character, C. Auguste Dupin. Feeling misunderstood, after only three tales (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and “The Purloined Letter”), Poe forever silenced Dupin. Following Poe, Sir A.C. Doyle brought enduring popularity to the genre by doing exactly the opposite as Poe: by building his tales on character, viz., Sherlock Holmes.

We are fascinated with detectives and deductions, with puzzles, clues and riddles. Humans are intrinsically curious and analytic. We are inclined to unravel what has been tangled. We long for solutions to problems. Would you be surprised to learn that God is actually the first author of mystery?

The Old Testament scriptures are complete for their purposes, but one would have to be quite dull to read them and not sense the constant anticipation of something more to come. Throughout, God promises that certain things will happen “afterward,” or “come to pass in the latter days.” Also foretold is the coming of a Person – a great king from the line of David – one who will reign forever with sublime rule (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7). The Old Testament on its own is unresolved, unfulfilled, a puzzle – what Paul called “the mystery” (Ephesians 3:1-11).

But concerning this mystery, mere men did not have the ability to put this bevy of information together. They could not solve the prophetic riddle through their reasoning alone. They needed help – Divine help.

First to help was Jesus. He claimed not only to know the answer to the Old Testament riddle, but also to be the answer to the same (Matthew 5:17). Problem was his followers only accepted part of the answer. They understood Jesus’ Messiah-ship in the sense that a kingly Person was promised to come and bring restitution to the state of Israel (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question indicates this partial understanding:

“And He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ [Heb. Messiah] of God'” (Luke 9:20).

Nevertheless, even this understanding proved highly problematic. Consider a modern illustration: today, if Americans think of who will be the next President of the United States, they can only imagine that happening by the democratic process: primary, party nomination, campaign, vote, and so on. Far from our minds is the idea that someone would simply declare him or herself the President by a coup d’états. That has never happened. It is entirely foreign. And if it happened, we would struggle to believe it.

Likewise with Jesus’ disciples, not even his most loyal followers could begin to process that Jesus would become the king and restorer of Israel through suffering and death. They thought the mission failed when he died (cf. Luke 24:5-8, 25-27). But even Jesus knew the disciples would not come to a full appreciation and understanding of how these things fit together until after the resurrection and upon receiving further help from above (John 13:7,18,19).

So second to solving the riddle, but no less important, was the Holy Spirit’s role after Jesus ascended to heaven (cf. Acts 1:9-11). The “Comforter” would bring to remembrance what Jesus said, and help the disciples amalgamate the whole truth of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). The Holy Spirit helped the disciples solve the riddle.

It was never intended for men to be able to decode Jesus fully on their own – they never could have. It took the Old Testament Scriptures, the ministry of Jesus himself, and the aid of the Holy Spirit to help men see the mystery of Christ.

Today, we have the blessing and benefit of reading God’s whole revelation of the greatest mystery ever written.

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