As I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. Today I’m finishing up my last paper for the semester. So here’s a post from the vault about learning to live in the tension of the unanswered.
The more I read the Bible the less convinced I am that it was created to be an answer book.
That’s not to say we can’t find answers to life’s questions in the Bible, but I’m increasingly less convinced that the purpose of the Bible is to be an answer book, or perhaps more precisely, a reference book we can turn to to prove our point or prove others wrong.
Obviously, there are any number of passages that we can use as proof texts to make whatever case we’re trying to make. To be fair, sometimes that is a completely valid thing to do. But I think the Bible is more interested in asking questions than it is providing definitive answers.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a collection of questions, questions, and more questions.
Am I my brother’s keeper? – Cain
Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? – Moses
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? – David
What strength do I have that I should still hope? – Job
How long oh Lord, must I call for your help? – Habakkuk
Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him? – The Disciples
Who do you say that I am? – Jesus
What does this mean? – Disciples at Pentecost
These are questions that the people of God continue to ask today, which I think is wonderful, not because it means we haven’t found “sufficient answers”, but because it makes the Bible more “real” and in turn it becomes that much more relatable and applicable.
If the Bible were nothing more than a collection of perfect people who always had quick, easy answers to all of their problems it would be completely unapproachable because we would have no way to connect to those sorts of stories. Instead, what we encounter are people not that unlike ourselves who live lives just as difficult and flawed as our own. Like our own lives, these Biblical characters struggle to find the answers they are looking for.
While some of us find beauty in this openendedness, fundamentalism cowers before it in fear. In their never-ending pursuit of control, fundamentalists, like Job’s friends, demand and then provide final, absolute, and exhaustive answers to any and every question they encounter even when God doesn’t seem to do so.
They do this because they fear unanswered questions. They fear unanswered questions because they refuse to relinquish even the slightest bit of control over their faith, their life, or even God. It is this refusal to live with the unanswered that leads to so much unnecessary conflict, division, and condemnation in the church.
The irony, of course, is that the control which fundamentalism demands is both impossible to possess and antithetical to a faith who’s oldest hymn describes a Savior who’s Lordship is defined by relinquishing control.
But I am convinced that the Bible’s openended questions are something to embrace, rather than fear.
They remind us that the Bible was not written directly by the hand of God. After all, why would God ask so many question God already knows the answer to? Instead, what we witness is a God who has invited God’s people to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
In turn, this combination of human participation and unanswered questions allows us to continue participating today in the answering of these important questions while also continuing to ask more questions of our own.
Over time we discover some of the answers to these questions, but this isn’t an invitation to answer every question or solve every case. It’s an invitation to live in the tension of the unanswered, the only place where true growth and discovery can occur.
Having prepackaged answers to everything stunts our growth, while also arrogantly and naively assuming to comprehend the incredible complexity and diversity of the human experience.
Allowing life’s most difficult questions to be unresolved allows us to honor the complexity and diversity of our lives and in so doing begin to address those questions in a more honest and effective way. It allows us to grow into the people God created to be, rather than artificially forcing us into a form God very well may never have intended us to fit into.
To borrow an old movie cliche, rather than using the Bible as a quick reference answer book, I think we should use it “ask the right questions”. Even in doing so, we may not always find the answers or if we do they may not be answers we like, but by learning learning to ask questions, rather than forcing out answers from every page of the Bible we join in the tradition of God’s people who’s relationship with God is, in so many ways, defined by their/our questions. In other words, we become who we have always been.
Once again, I do not say all of this to imply that the Bible doesn’t contain “answers” to the questions we have in life. However, we must be extremely careful in how we glean those answers, for more often than not I am afraid those “answers” tend to be our own creation, rather than the voice of God.
Answer are good, but often times questions are even better. Answers leave us as stagnant, preformed people. Questions allow our relationship with God to be dynamic, open, and honest.
God doesn’t fear our questions. No one in the Bible is ever condemned for asking God questions. Even Jesus asked questions! If anything, the Bible’s immense collection of questions should tell us that God welcomes questions with open arms.
So, don’t be afraid to ask questions. And when you find the courage to ask questions, never stop asking them. It’s ok to ask difficult questions about the Bible. God doesn’t fear your tough questions. And it’s even ok to critique the Bible.
Because as soon as we question or critique God and the Bible, they will turn around and do the same to us. And that is a very good thing. For like Moses or the 12 apostles, it is out of that exchange that we grow into the people God created us to be.
Grace and peace,