A few years ago I stumbled across an old purple tub in the corner of my parents’ basement. Inside was a collection of keepsakes from my childhood, lovingly saved by my mom years ago. I smiled as I pulled out items I hadn’t seen in decades: an old varsity letterman jacket, fifth- and sixth-grade football trophies, faded pictures with crumpled corners.
To my surprise, underneath a tee-ball trophy and a wooden plaque sat a white, spiral-bound book entitled School Years that held all my old report cards, kindergarten through twelfth grade. On the back of my very first report card, Mrs. Johnson, my kindergarten teacher, had written, “Brian is progressing well in all of the above areas. However, he is somewhat shy in volunteering and answering questions.” Then, under the section marked “Parent Comments,” my mom had replied, “We were quite surprised to hear that Brian is shy in volunteering and answering questions. He is basically not a shy child at all. We casually asked him about his responses in class, and his only comment was, ‘I’m not shy, Mom! I just don’t know all the answers!’”
The funny thing is that after all these years, I still don’t know all the answers. For instance, one of these days I’m going to write a book called Passages I’ll Never Preach. In that book I’ll include all the parts of the Bible that don’t make sense to me. The first chapter of Hosea is one of them. God tells the prophet Hosea to find a prostitute on the streets, take her home, marry her, and have children with her, despite knowing that some of her children will not be his. One of the children Hosea and his new wife, Gomer, have together is a little girl that God tells them to name Lo-Ruhamah, which means “not loved.” We’re told that God wanted the people of Israel to have a visible reminder, as a warning, of the ultimate result of their unfaithfulness to him (v. 6). This passage makes perfect sense—as long as you’re not that little girl. I have three daughters and know how words affect their hearts and minds. I can’t help but be sickened when I read that story. I can’t understand how God could make someone go through her entire life with the name “not loved.” Surely God could have come up with another way to communicate his point.
Perhaps you have a question that is bothering you. Maybe something happened to you or someone you love, and there doesn’t seem to be any rational explanation for its occurrence. How do we resolve these kinds of questions? Honestly, most times we don’t. We live with the ambiguity. We wake up every day knowing full well that we carry around with us just as many questions as answers. I used to purchase every book I could find that attempted to provide factual proof for the truth of the Bible and the Christian faith. After a while, however, I realized that those books helped me very little. This troubled me until I realized that the books are written backwards. These books only present the final product. I want to know how the authors got there. I want to hear about their sleepless nights, agonizing in despair. What I want to read is a book written by someone who is bold enough to list all of his unanswered questions but is still willing to die for his faith.
At the heart of a life filled with unanswered questions lies the very nature of Christianity. Our faith is about a relationship with Jesus, not an adherence to a set of intellectual ideas we can memorize and master. Doubt reminds us of this. In Matthew 28:16-20, the disciples could walk away from that mountain and continue to follow Jesus with all their doubts because they were following him—a real, living, breathing person—not a book. Jesus and his disciples were in relationship with each other, and that relationship took precedence over the disciples’ need to have all their questions answered.
It’s the same with us today. Poet Rainer Rilke could have been writing to us when he counseled:
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
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