For about as long as I can remember studying the Bible, I have heard it taught that the word “mystery” in the New Testament means “something hidden, now revealed”. Lately I’ve had reason to question that definition in light of Paul’s statement about marriage in Ephesians 5:32, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (ESV) To be sure, some things are easily understood the moment one considers that a link exists between marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church; however, it is not hard to imagine that there are unfathomable depths to explore as well.
So along comes ubiquitous theological nugget-finder Justin Taylor with a helpful post quoting Graham Cole in his book He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, in which he quotes E.L. Mascall writing in Words and Images: A Study in Theological Discourse:
“In the first place, on being confronted with a mystery we are conscious that the small central area of which we have a relatively clear vision shades off into a vast background which is obscure and as yet unpenetrated.
Secondly, we find, as we attempt to penetrate this background . . . that the range and clarity of our vision progressively increase but at the same time the background which is obscure and unpenetrated is seen to be far greater than we had recognized before. . . . .
The third feature of a mystery . . . is the fact that a mystery, while it remains obscure in itself, has a remarkable capacity of illuminating other things.”
As a bonus, he throws in some thoughts from John Piper regarding limits (actually the lack thereof) to pondering a mystery.
I found the entire article especially helpful in thinking about the whole concept of mystery. You can read it all here.