when there is no answer

Faith involves a trust in God, a trust in his promises. Sometimes in the fog of life, it’s hard to see through to any of the promises of God we find in scripture fulfilled in and through Jesus to God’s people. Given the situation and how we got there, it may be hard to see how any of God’s promises will help us out of our immediate trouble. Granted for sure we know in the long run at the end of the day when all is said and done, God will be faithful to his promises and God’s good will prevails. We may not be able to see how that works for us.

I need to be in the word, in scripture daily and throughout the day as much as possible. A big part of that is so that I can learn to do well amidst all the challenges and problems which come my way, some hanging over me.

A danger for us all is to settle into answers which ultimately have no staying power. Perhaps they have staying power for this life “under the sun,” but end up seeming empty or “meaningless” to us in the end (Ecclesiastes). So that like the one who ends the book (see Tremper Longman’s commentary on Ecclesiastes), life is simply about fearing God and keeping his commandments in whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether in the midst of plenty or living in need.

Sometimes the answer is so close to us, even where were living, that we can’t see it. God is working out his purpose, his good will right in front of us, we are in the middle of that, but where we may be in the process makes us wonder.

Such times are good times to lay low, be still and know that God is God, be quiet and listen, continue in the word and prayer, and seek to find God’s peace in the assurance that he is present and will take care of us, of our cares and needs. Of course we are blessed to be a blessing. Our concern must be not only for ourselves but for our neighbor.

At any rate when we are unsure about life’s situation, where to hang our hat so that we can be at rest, that is when we need to learn to look and lean all the more on the one who promises never to leave us and never to forsake us in his presence and working in and through Jesus.

remaining inquisitive

As I get older I care less and less about matters which used to hold some interest to me. I am supposing and probably more like hoping that on central matters of life and of the faith I am growing in interest and/or understanding. Other matters I either don’t consider important at all anymore, of relatively little importance, or on which I am glad to remain agnostic since I think scripture may not really address the question or answer it in the way our theologies do. I am glad for the zeal of younger folks who go after some subjects which really are quite important in their place. I can appreciate and learn from them. I am not so inclined anymore to want to hash out some of the ongoing debates that are out there. For one thing I’ve sadly seen Christians tear into each other. Which ends up ruining the entire thing. But even when that doesn’t happen and a constructive dialog takes place, I pick and choose my spots much more carefully. The older one gets the more one realizes just how limited time is.

But one thing in this regard I want to be is simply inquisitive. To be interested to pursue important questions. For example, recently I noticed from Galatians 5 that the NIV 2011 changed the fruit of the Spirit patience to forbearance. Of course I love the simple word patience. And I want to push away a word like forbearance. Who uses that in everyday life? And yet I can see in that word a richness of meaning which can be helpful in understanding patience in terms of relationships which the passage is all about. To forbear is to put up with each other, which to some extent we have to do and are called to do in love. But I would want to go to a Greek lexicon and perhaps more than one to see what meaning they would give to the Greek term so translated (my transliteration: makrothumia). I see in my BAGD lexicon that one definition given for the word is “forbearance, patience toward others” and that Galatians 5:22 is listed as one of the passages with that meaning. If I had more time I’d like to study this thought further (and I intend to later). I would do so by looking up good evangelical and other Christian commentaries on Galatians, especially those which might get more into the language itself.

So it’s good and surely a vital part of our humanity to continue to explore. Yes, to read, to ask questions. As we remain in the Truth in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

living with unanswered questions

Last evening we had a really good start and exchange with regard to the book of Job, led by our Pastor Jack and Pastoral Intern, Jordan. I loved the exchanges throughout the hour and a half. If it is that good the balance of the rest of the time we meet, that may well be the richest group Bible study I’ve ever been part of. And on, to me, one of the richest books in scripture, Job. Rich and unique in wisdom, in the wisdom literature.

What strikes me the most, at the moment with Job, is how in the end, Job learns to live well with unanswered questions. I’m sure I’ll learn some significant things during our study together, but it seems to me clear enough now, that in the end, Job never received the answer to his questions. Instead God gave Job a revelation of himself as Creator in a way in which Job had to stop, dead in his tracks to acknowledge that he had never known God, not in the way God was now revealing himself to Job.

For me, that should be helpful. I wrestle with large and small scale questions, and I don’t think all of them, perhaps not any of them have to be answered to my satisfaction. Being interested in theology and having more of a lean toward biblical theology than systematic theology may help me, but still I don’t want to throw something of systematic theology out the window, in which we seek to see a coherent picture of God’s revelation in Christ. But part of that picture will necessarily include ambiguities, things beyond us, too wonderful for us, as Job states.

And so I need to learn to rest better, even as I continue to ask God the hard questions. I know God is creator, sustainer, and redeemer. And that God is a father, as well. And so I am committed to continue to pray with others in Jesus, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

prayer and asking questions

Sometimes we hardly know what to do. We face difficult decisions, or dilemmas. We know that we lack sufficient wisdom and knowledge. We also realize that this can be a point of good, an interface with God, not only for the situation at hand, but to bring us closer to God, maybe even into a new relationship with God.

Number one, we need to pray and get others to pray for us. This can’t be stressed too strongly. The next is nearly beside the point in comparison with this. Because we need God’s working, period. Often in spite of ourselves.

We also need to ask questions, to find people in the know, perhaps to gather information on the internet.

And doing those things, with the emphasis on prayer, we need to at least sleep on it, and give it some time. No hasty decisions.

And then, hopefully with God’s peace, we can proceed a certain way. Knowing that life is open ended. And that above all it’s about a faith walk and witness to the world, through faith in God through Jesus. Together in Jesus for the world.

speaking truth to each other

A part of our malaise, or lack of conviction, maybe a better way to put it, lack of formation in thought and life concerning church is our failure to speak truth to each other. We see a brother or sister in Jesus failing in some way, or in some danger. And we don’t step in to try to help them. Or for that matter, we may not be much open to such help when we need it, as well.

We need to be willing on both sides. To both offer help, and to receive it. When we think someone may be on a wrong path, we do well to ask questions. And we don’t do well to rationalize sin in any way, shape or form. It is one thing to acknowledge our own struggle perhaps in the same area, or in another sin area. It’s another thing entirely to actually justify it in some way. Like, “Well, everyone does that.” Or, “It’s really not a big deal.” Etc.

Of course we’re going to have to approach this with grace, as well as truth. We do so with the humility that recognizes and acknowledges that we are no better at all, and that we are all in need of grace in all of life, in every way.

This is a missing chord in Christianity today. I often think of the advantage Roman Catholics or those who practice confession of sin to a priest have over the rest of us. I’m not in favor of that practice, which brings its own problems, along with the fact that I don’t think it’s according to God’s word, pure and simple. But we do need accountability to each other. We are all priests for each other, and the world, in and through Jesus. We need to be humbly present for each other, first of all praying for a brother or sister we think may be in error. And willing and ready to step in to help.

We need to recover this directive, and put it into practice. We are not on our own. We need each other, indeed we are in this together in Jesus for the world.

Relevant passages: Matthew 18:15-20James 5:13-20, Galatians 6:1-10; 1 John 5:16-17

asking questions

We live at a time when people have the answers, they know already, at least for them and for their world. Though oftentimes for the whole world. During this political season in the United States prior to a major election we see two sides pitted against each other, running their adds according to their ideologies, and to get votes. They all know the answers, or at least they are saying they have are advocating policies which are needed or important.

It’s part of my cynical nature, I suppose, but I’m wondering if asking questions doesn’t end up putting a kibosh on much of the confidence people hold in regard to so many of their positions in life along with politics. There ought to be a pervading and deeply rooted humility, or all too often I’m afraid it is more about power or special interests, agenda driven.

Over and over again in scripture we find that asking questions can end up enlightening, even if the answer that comes does not directly address the questions (I think of Job). This holds true for nearly every human endeavor. There is a complexity to life which aside from the simplicity we need to hold on to in our commitment to God through Jesus, lends itself to questions and questioning.

Asking questions means we want to listen, to hear. It is the spirit of inquiry, learning so that we can grow in our understanding, and hopefully in our full humanity, as well as in our understanding of God’s will in and through Jesus.

We must be careful however that asking questions does not become an excuse for not moving forward in faith in following God and his revealed will to us in Jesus. By faith we keep following and we go on, oftentimes in spite of our questions and in the midst of them. Asking questions and holding on to faith are not incompatible as we see in Job’s case, as well as in others in scripture (example: a good number of psalms). So we’re asking God questions, as well as others.

There are provisional answers, answers which have their use and importance on different levels. And there are the answers God gives us, which are largely framed in terms of his good will and revelation to us in Jesus. Sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes our question itself is off track. God’s answer moves us to his will in Jesus.

And so let’s keep on asking questions, listening to God and others. Seeking wisdom from God in it all. Together in Jesus for the world.

keeping my thoughts to myself

I sometimes am tempted to post on something which could be called my opinion, even strong opinion, nearing the place of conviction. I want to make a point on something, but think that somehow, someway it just seems out of place. There is only so much fight left in one, and what are we fighting for? Though I have opinions that run contrary to many in my tradition on politics, science, the Bible, etc., I find myself more and more reticent to get involved in some of those fracases, or hopefully, debates. More inclined to just leave it alone altogether.

We each have our work to do, our place to fill. Some do seem called more along the lines of making a point where one needs to be made on a given issue. I don’t mind joining in some of that at times, in fact it may be right to do so, to at least raise questions to help us all think better together. But my calling seems to be more along the lines of helping us in Jesus see where our unity lies, what is the center.

Let me add to this, some of the best, most intelligent Christians I know disagree on these hot button issues I refer to here. So I’m unwilling to disparage any of those who disagree with me on any given matter.

Sometimes it is best to keep silent. To keep our thoughts to ourselves. Or at least that is the case for me. In some matters in which we disagree we are bound to have some strong opinions, or feelings about it. The question becomes: How do we follow Jesus in this?

My conviction is to try to find where we are united, how we can better understand the differences we do have, and to see clearer as to what difference that might make. The traditions of Christianity and Judaism are both known for spirited disagreement on what are considered important matters. But ultimately for the most part at least in my mind those differences do not move us from the center of our faith. That ends up being the big question: Are we adhering to what is central, what unites us, what is nonnegotiable in and of itself, what we cannot lose.

Hopefully I’ll keep growing more in this area. Both in simply remaining quiet oftentimes, and also in how I speak when we are sharing back and forth with reference to our differences. With an emphasis on listening and I would think asking good questions. (Actually I can thankfully safely say that I think I’ve come a long way in this from years past.)

The differences will go on. But our unity in the gospel of King Jesus remains the same. We indeed have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We must hold on to that for dear life. Together in Jesus in and for the world.

asking the hard questions

With the hullabaloo controversy that erupted* over Rob Bell’s upcoming book and another book by Rachel Held Evans which has not been out much more than a year, we are becoming aware of the reality that many, especially younger people, but not excluding some of us older, are asking questions about issues that may be troubling us. And for now many young people are opting for answers that make sense to them while holding on to their profession of faith in Jesus.

I think it is good to ask such questions. The alternative is to bury them and try to live as if they don’t matter. But they really do matter to us. Our faith is not undermined or destroyed by asking the hard questions. Such as how many are going to be saved in the end. Our view of gays who profess faith in Jesus, and in many cases somewhere along the line would have gladly left behind their orientation for a heterosexual one. Faith and science. Etc.

We’re told in the Proverbs that it’s the glory of kings to search out a matter. That means we need to keep praying, reading and thinking. One needs to keep asking those hard questions.

But for me, I’m settled into an openness that acknowledges I simply am not going to know all the answers. Basic and of first importance in that stance is a commitment to faith in Jesus and a reliance on scripture. So that we have to go on what scripture says, acknowledging that both our understanding of its message is incomplete, and we say more and less than what it actually says at points. In the end our faith is completely in the god of the word, God revealed in Jesus and made known by the Spirit. Scripture leads us to that stance. So that while we don’t know the answer to a host of questions, we do know the One who does.

It is good  though to work through to some provisional answers. Open ended yet closed enough so that we can proceed with grace, accordingly. In such matters we do so with the utmost humility, ever ready to find a better way of understanding. And yet with the humble conviction that we do so with the best knowledge we have, in the way of Jesus and in keeping with the Jesus Creed.

It seems that God has not given us all the answers in a Book for a good reason. God wants us to have not a Book faith, but a living, interactive faith in him that is worked out in community with others in Jesus. So that we are kept guessing on some questions, or on how to apply the truth of scripture which we do understand. Of course there are many answers in God’s word, so that it is not only what we don’t understand which can be troubling, but even more so much of the time what we do understand plainly enough. And yet God wants us within the commitment of faith in Jesus to continue on in fresh need of the salvation he gives us, a salvation that includes our understanding. We are ever dependent on God, and that dependence does work its way out within the interdependency of community in Jesus, the church. As we seek in all things to live in the Truth himself, and to help others find their way to him.

*The italicized words, “controversy that erupted”, replace “hullabaloo”.

Rachel Held Evans on the witness the world needs

It’s always a little embarrassing when you come out swinging and there’s nobody there to fight with you. I think that’s how a lot of us felt when we realized that the world wasn’t asking the questions we had learned to answer. Many of us who grew up in the church or received Christian educations were under the impression that the world was full of atheists and agnostics and that the greatest threat against Christianity was the rise of secular humanism. But what we found upon entering the real world was that most of our peers were receptive to spiritual things. Most believed in God, were open to the supernatural, and respected ideas so long as they were not forced upon them…They weren’t searching for historical evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were searching for some signs of life among his followers.

Not once after graduating from Bryan was I asked to make a case for the scientific feasibility of miracles, but often I was asked why Christians aren’t more like Jesus. I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind. People didn’t argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren’t doing more to alleviate human suffering, support the poor, and oppose violence and war. Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions.

Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, 203-4.

See Justin Topp’s review of her book, and here is my review.