“I was determined to sit in his presence until I had an answer. He said, ‘Stay my son until the questions don’t matter.'” –John Redenbo
I have a friend who, like any good Christian boy raised in the 90’s, listened to Michael W. Smith, the most popular Christian artist of that time.One of Michael’s most famous songs said
Go West young man….go West go young man….go West young man….when the evil goes East.
This friend mis-heard those words to say
Question man, question man, question man….and then wondered “What does Jesus being a question man have to do with evil going East?” (which was a line I didn’t quite understand even with the normal words!)
I heard this story and laughed. It was almost as good as my mishearing “Won’t you take me to…Funkytown!” as “One jinx on Nixon….Funky town!”
I had forgotten the story for years but it came to mind the other day because of some of my current life journeys. Maybe the mishearing of that song was dead on, I thought. Maybe Jesus was even more of a question man than he was an answer man.
So I decided to do some research. If you look purely at the numbers, Jesus was definitely a question man. According to Martin B Copenhaver, in the New Testament Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 questions. He only answers three of those question with a direct answer.
Does Jesus’ lack of giving concrete answers mean that he doesn’t offer meaning and reason and hope? Of course not. It just means that he is not a God that I can put in a little box and make into my own image.
The vastness of his character and love and wisdom is so big that it enfolds eternity. No matter how much I think I know him, there is an element of unfathomable mystery. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to “figure him out” like an algebra equation.
Mystery has been a theme in my life lately. About a year ago, I went through a depression and the worse crisis of faith I have ever had. My dad had died, and I was struggling with some questions about what the afterlife is like. I had endured a string of rejections, such a strong pattern that made it made me wonder if someone was playing some kind of cosmic joke on me.
These circumstances threw me into a bout of sadness, but the sadness got infinitely worse when I started deeply doubting the goodness, even the existence of God. Men rejecting me? It’s hard but I’ve made it through before. A death? Also full of grief but with time it will get better.
But the thought that God I love, the one stable thing in my life, my reason, my everything….the thought that he is not good? That he might not even be there?
That was too much for me. That was earth shattering. That almost killed me.
Since I am human, I began to try to figure my suffering out. Here are some ways that I tried to put a label on my grief:
God is good, but there is sin in the world, so bad things happen. (Anger at other people ensues.)
God is good, Satan is bad. I must fight Satan! (Exhaustion ensues.)
God is good, but I have free will, so I can screw my life up. (Self hatred and fear ensue.)
My will and God’s will are constantly at odds. (Exhaustion and self hatred ensue.)
If I’m sad like this, I just need to praise God more! (Disappointment ensues.)
God is playing golf. (Anger at God ensues.)
God allows me to suffer so that I can learn. (Muffled, hidden anger at God ensues.)
God doesn’t exist. (Deep despair and meaninglessness ensues.)
Somewhere in the midst of this crisis, my view of God started changing. I wasn’t getting any more answers to why suffering happens. On the contrary I seemed to have less answers than when I started the asking.
But I began to shift my posture towards these questions. I started to try to sit quietly and reverently in the mystery of God. I slowly allowed myself to say these three magical words:
I. Don’t. Know.
I do not know why my suffering happens. I do not know why the world’s suffering happens. I probably will never know this side of heaven. Trying to get solid answers was becoming a control game.
It was time to let go. And letting go of the answers left me with two choices: giving up on God altogether or choosing to believe in his goodness even when I didn’t see empirically that it was real.
I decided that even if I didn’t understand him, I needed to choose to believe in him. Where else could I go but into his arms? A life without him would be no life at all.
I was tired of fighting Satan or myself or God or circumstances or the people that had hurt me. Battle language had been in my vocabulary for a long time and I was so tired.
It was time for me to let go, to rest in Jesus’ arms like a child. Trusting in his goodness, loving the sound of his heartbeat, cherishing the warmth of his arms around me. No more fighting. Just choosing to believe in the midst of the questions.
I am willing to embrace the mystery, if that means embracing him. I am ready to live at peace with the questions. I believe that is a mark that my faith is growing.
A quote by Donald Miller that has intrigued me lately is “I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”
In this season, I have been able to turn this towards God, saying “I don’t know if there is a healthier way for me to not run away from this whole Christianity deal than to stop blaming God or Satan or myself for my suffering, but to let God hold me close while I experience it.”