Does God Work in Mysterious Ways?

Mystery Machine


When something bad happens in a believer’s life, people will often attribute it to God, saying, “God works in mysterious ways.” Though this phrase does not appear in scripture, the idea is prevalent in the church.

But is it true?

The Greek word μυστήριον (mysterion), translated “mystery,” appears 27 times in the New Testament.

Nine times, God is saying “Christians know the mysteries of God”:

  • He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matthew 13:11)
  • And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables. (Mark 4:11)
  • And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’ (Luke 8:10)
  • But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory… but God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:7-10)
  • Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself. (Ephesians 1:9)
  • How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already). (Ephesians 3:3)
  • The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. (Colossians 1:26)
  • To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
  • That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ. (Colossians 2:2)

Six times, the bible is explaining what the apparent mystery is:

  • Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51)
  • This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
  • And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20)
  • And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation 17:5)
  • But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. (Revelation 17:7)

Five times, Paul is saying his ministry and letters explain the mysteries of God:

  • For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
  • Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1)
  • And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
  • And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:19)
  • Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains. (Colossians 4:3)

Twice, God is saying you can learn the mysteries of God by reading the bible:

  • Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith. (Romans 16:25-26)
  • By which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ. (Ephesians 3:4)

And twice, God says it’s the job of the Church to reveal mysteries:

  • And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ, to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:9-10)
  • Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. (1 Timothy 3:9)

Of the remaining three, one is saying that the devil (not God) works in mysterious ways (ways that have been trumped by God, circa John 10:10 and 1 John 3:8):

  • For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

One comments on the “mystery of God” being completed, a direct tie in to 1 Timothy 3:16:

  • But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. (Revelation 10:7)

And the final one is explaining what those who speak in tongues speak mysteries to God, which can be interpreted if need be according to 1 Corinthians 12:10:

  • For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

The idea that God works in mysterious ways, which seemingly bring harm to us, is entirely unfounded in scripture. In fact, Amos 3:7 says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” The New Testament confirms this, stating that God delights to reveal his secrets and mysterious ways to us through His Spirit, through Scripture, and through the Church.

The mysterious ways of God can be summed up in a passage found in Colossians 1:

“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The mystery of God is why He is so good to us, why He cares so deeply for us, why He wants to know us and has united Himself with us and lives in us. It’s a mystery of exceedingly good news, of joy, and hope and comfort. And it is revealed in the pages of scripture.

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