Our Questions, God’s Answers

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

question markQuestions are good. They bring life, release energy, they cause us to explore and to gain knowledge. But living our questions as Rilke suggests, without a guaranteed answer, is not an easy life. In fact, it is a messy, open-ended uncertain life. We prefer neat, settled and identified. Some areas of life offer sure answers, two plus two always equals four, water and oxygen are necessary to sustain life. But when it comes to the big questions, the existential, universal ones, the ones that only God can answer we can come up empty and confused. We come with our important questions and God’s answers often seem to not satisfy.

Have you noticed that Jesus rarely answered people’s questions of him in a neat, packaged way? Usually he responded with a question back to the one inquiring or with a parable that often seemed to confuse the matter even further.

Jesus’ spirit-guided intuition helped him to know the heart and the motivation of the people who sought him out with questions. He answered accordingly. His answers revealed their hearts; his responses exposed their real questions.

  • The Pharisees trying to trick him – How can we eliminate your threat?
  • The rich young ruler wanting to display his righteousness – How can I bolster my ego?
  • Nicodemus seeking a second birth – How can I get in on this good news?
  • The dying thief’s request to be remembered in Christ’s kingdom – Is there hope for me? Even after all I’ve done?

God’s answers lead us to our real questions. Listening to the answers God gives leads us to know our true self.

It all begins with daring to approach God with a question.

So we’re going to ask God some pretty significant questions over the next few posts.  And we’ll do our best to listen for God’s answers. These answers can lead us to a transformed life.

Our first question is,  “Who is God?” We’ll talk about this question in my next post.

Who does God hate?

You know you are worshipping a false God, when this God hates the same people you do.

 -spoken by an unknown person at a retreat I recently attended

Jesus welcomes all questions, and all questioners. Mark 12 shows us three types of questioning souls. The first were people who came to Jesus with the intent of proving him wrong and getting him into trouble with the authorities. They came with false hearts and impure motives and left in “utter amazement.” The encounter changed them.

The Sadducees represent the next type of questioner. (Mark 12:18-27) They came to Jesus with a query about the law (on which they placed a high value) attempting to determine Jesus’ orthodoxy. Would he answer correctly? Would he be on their team?

Their minds were made up, only the right answer from Jesus would prove him credible. Notice I wrote that their minds were made up, their hearts were not involved.

Again, Jesus avoids their “game” and shows them their lack.

Is this not the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24

They did not fully understand the scriptures (the moral law) and they didn’t understand the power of God (the mystical Spirit.) Both are needed.

Ask St. Paul. His mind was made up and his heart was hard. It took the mysterious intervention of the Holy Spirit to expand his narrow understanding of God’s word. Paul’s excellent mind, with it’s predetermined and finite understanding of the Scriptures, needed to be set aside, his heart needed to be penetrated with the mystery of the living Lord.

Oh, there are Sadducees among us and within us; using Scriptures that prove our point, minimizing or ignoring the rest. Convinced of the correctness of our doctrine, or our theology, or style of worship, or spiritual practices, or who’s in the kingdom and who’s not (sadly, the list can be endless), we need God to agree with us. We have already determined which questions are allowable to ask and have the acceptable answers at the ready. Like the Sadducees, our minds are made up, we think in black and white.

I know this all too well. Jesus lovingly allows gray to enter the picture. He gently introduces paradox and mystery. He instructs from the Word of God and the Word of the life’s experience. Entering this mystery, letting go of our predetermined answers is the threshold of mature faith. God allows the questions, the unknown, and the uncertain, hoping it will cause us to give up control and cast ourselves on his love.

What questions do you have for God?

Recently we considered the question Jesus asked of people who sought him out, “What do you want me to do for you?” Shortly after these exchanges Jesus encounters people who have a question or two for him.

First on the scene are the Pharisees and the Herodians, the religious and political elite of the time. (Mark 12:13-17) Their question is based on their desire to trap Jesus, to discredit him, they hope to set him up for failure. They come with flattery on their lips and deceit in their hearts. They pose a query based on the commodity they most value – money, which, of course translates into  power.

Jesus sees through their insincere praise to their intended motive and responds accordingly. He knows their falseness and avoids the trap they think they’ve set.

While studying counseling in graduate school I had a professor who would always tell me that the secret of a good therapist was to “see the game, call the game, but not play the game.” I was to see the dysfunctional pattern of my client, name it is such a way that the client could also see it and then refuse to pulled into the dysfunctional relational or cognitive pattern. Jesus was good at this, he saw their game, named it and refused to play.

They think they’ve backed Jesus into a corner so that whatever answer he gives will get him into trouble, either with the religious or the political powerhouses. He knows what they are up to and sidesteps the trap.

They come to Jesus with false hearts hoping to prove him wrong.

We do this. We come to Jesus with words of praise on our lips and with a personal agenda in our heart. We come to him with a question relating to the commodity we value most, a question that has a right or wrong answer. It usually is crafted as an either/or query. “God, if you are loving, why do I suffer.” In our mind, the answer has to be black or white, one or the other. God is either loving or not. He can’t be both. In this way of thinking it  follows that if I suffer, God must not be loving. In our own way, we’ve set a trap for Jesus.

But he doesn’t play that game. Somehow, beyond our limited ability to comprehend, God can and in fact is both loving and does permit suffering.

The sweet thing about this exchange is that it changed the Pharisees and the Herodians. They approached Jesus with false hearts and impure motives, they left him with respect and awe. Once again Jesus demonstrates that all  questions and questioners are welcomed by him.

Next we’ll look at a group of people with hard hearts who are determined to prove Jesus right.

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