Then Peter replied to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”
“Are even you still lacking in understanding?,” (Jesus) asked. (Matthew 15:15-16)
Even Jesus got frustrated and exhausted with discipleship. It’s a persistent process. Of course, Jesus stayed engaged. He worked through the difficult moments, because He knew how important the process was.
How committed are we to discipleship? How often do we walk away because of disinterest, misunderstandings, or frustrations? How ready and willing are we to explain, wrestle with, and listen to people as they grow?
It takes effort, patience, and humility.
And it is necessary and worthwhile.
I watched Macy’s “Old Friends” commercial during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It speaks to our beliefs. What is stable, consistent in our ever-changing lives? What do we come back to again and again? What pursues us?
What do we believe?
We sometimes skim over such questions, or we revisit them seasonally or in crises or frustration, but maybe today is a good day to pause long enough to reflect on our beliefs. We can get caught up in ourselves and how we change over time, and we can bury some of the consistencies, some of those deep-seated questions, needs, and beliefs. But regardless of how infrequently we think about them, they still pull a consistent thread of connection through our lives. Something that consistently deserves our attention.
So, what do you believe?
Yesterday’s post focused on God’s words to Job. Here’s Job’s response to God:
I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this who conceals My counsel with ignorance?” Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, “Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform Me.” I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6)
What a sweet response of culmination, resolution, and transition. I love the honesty of verse 3b: “Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” How often we speak of things we don’t understand. In the process, we mess with the truth, what we believe about God, and how we perceive life and faith.
There’s something about reading the entire book of Job. We all get the basics. Job was faithful but encountered beyond what seems to be a fair share of troubles. He struggled, others got involved and gave him all kinds of advice and explanations, and God didn’t say a whole lot until later in the book. And that’s when the reality check comes in.
Basically, “Um, hello, Job. Can you stop for just a second please? Remember me? God? Let me remind you of a few things. In fact, I’ll just ask you a few questions.”
Who is this who obscures My counsel with ignorant words? Get ready to answer Me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me. Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? What supports its foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Who enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its blanket, when I determined its boundaries and put its bars and doors in place, when I declared: “You may come this far, but no farther;
your proud waves stop here”? Have you ever in your life commanded the morning or assigned the dawn its place, so it may seize the edges of the earth and shake the wicked out of it? The earth is changed as clay is by a seal; its hills stand out like the folds of a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked, and the arm raised in violence is broken. Have you traveled to the sources of the sea or walked in the depths of the oceans? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the extent of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Where is the road to the home of light? Do you know where darkness lives, so you can lead it back to its border?
Are you familiar with the paths to its home? Don’t you know? You were already born; you have lived so long! Have you entered the place where the snow is stored? Or have you seen the storehouses of hail, which I hold in reserve for times of trouble, for the day of warfare and battle? What road leads to the place where light is dispersed? Where is the source of the east wind that spreads across the earth? Who cuts a channel for the flooding rain
or clears the way for lightning, to bring rain on an uninhabited land, on a desert with no human life, to satisfy the parched wasteland and cause the grass to sprout? Does the rain have a father? Who fathered the drops of dew? Whose womb did the ice come from? Who gave birth to the frost of heaven when water becomes as hard as stone, and the surface of the watery depths is frozen? Can you fasten the chains of the Pleiades or loosen the belt of Orion? Can you bring out the constellations in their season and lead the Bear and her cubs? Do you know the laws of heaven? Can you impose its authority on earth? Can you command the clouds so that a flood of water covers you? Can you send out lightning bolts, and they go? Do they report to you: “Here we are”? Who put wisdom in the heart or gave the mind understanding? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the dust hardens like cast metal and the clods of dirt stick together? Can you hunt prey for a lioness or satisfy the appetite of young lions when they crouch in their dens and lie in wait within their lairs? Who provides the raven’s food when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? (Job 38)
Go ahead and continue into Job 39 if you want. It’s riddled with more questions. And I always read these questions as directed not just to Job but to me. And not just to me but to people in general. I mean, what are we thinking when we try to understand what God has done, estimate what He will do, and even try to take some of that control away from Him (or refuse He has it in the first place)?
Don’t get me wrong. I think God is okay with our questions. He’s okay with our struggles. Both indicate we’re working through something, that we’re on the journey instead of indifferent.
I never want to be indifferent again. I don’t have all the answers. I have a lot of questions. Yet I am more certain about who God is the closer I get to Him and the more passionate and persistently I pursue Him.
God is God.
Don’t define Him. Let Him define Himself as you seek and get to know Him. He’s worth the journey.
People ask a lot of questions. And that is good. As Christians, if we’re not being asked questions, there’s a problem. Either we’re not getting out and about enough, or we’re not approachable enough.
I’m not just talking about questions from people who aren’t Christians. Christians need to ask each other questions, too. But we must be careful answering questions. We don’t have all the answers. Even when we think we have an answer, we need to accept the possibility (and responsibility) of being wrong. That might not be our intent, but it’s always possible.
There is always a motivation behind the question, and it might not be obvious. Questions that might sound like interpretation are more than likely questions of application. People might ask, “What does this mean?” or “What do you think the truth is about…?” But the underlying question is often “What do I do with this?” or “How will you respond to me even if I disagree?”
You can’t know all the implications behind the question, but you can always answer with humility and respect. Speaking the truth is always important, because it is the only firm foundation for the relationship, for you, and for the other person. But speaking the truth always needs to be done in love, which involves respect, patience, kindness, and self-control.
Why was I not stillborn; why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? Why is light given to one burdened with grief, and life to those whose existence is bitter, Why is life given to a man whose path is hidden, whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:11-12, 20, 23)
Oh, the questions we ask!
But questions are good. Job asked these questions of God. He wrestled with God. He trusted God’s perspective even when He didn’t understand it. He acknowledged His authority, even when He didn’t like it. Job continued even when He didn’t get the answers He wanted from God.
Don’t stop asking the questions that swirl in your mind and overwhelm your heart…but ask them of God. Continue to ask when you don’t get the answer you want. Trusting God includes trusting His timing. Acknowledging His authority doesn’t assume He will give you what you want when you want it, including answers.
Perhaps the search is much more important than the answers anyway, as long as the search is rooted in relationship and faith.
Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
Christians are taught to be prepared to give an answer when faced with a question, curiosity, or challenge. But being prepared to give an answer doesn’t mean our answers are always set in concrete. We’re human. We grow, change, question, settled in (sometimes too much). Sure, there are times when the answer is clear and certain, but I think much of the time we oversimplify and give an answer to a question someone doesn’t even ask. We don’t listen well enough to be able to answer well. And even when we think we listen well, we look for an answer that might fit instead of the answer that fits best.
Sometimes the answer is another question.
There have been many times in my faith journey that I’ve given a concrete response, because certainty seems reassuring. It gives a sense of security. But that sense of security is a deceptive one. Just because we think we understand doesn’t mean we do. Just because we’ve been taught something or have interpreted something doesn’t make us completely right. Sometimes we burrow into a snippet of truth so intensely that we fail to explore the full breadth of truth.
Faith is about trust, and trust has to do with a Who more than What. I don’t trust my faith. I trust who is at the center of my faith: Jesus. So, I guess I am prepared to give an answer for my hope. My hope is Jesus, plain and simple. But just to be clear, just because I know the core of my hope is Jesus, it doesn’t mean I have an answer for everything. It certainly doesn’t mean I understand everything. I can give you an answer for why there is pain in the world, why innocent people get hurt, why injustices seem to go unpunished, and so on, but I don’t completely understand those things, so I’ll hesitate to give you an answer, knowing whatever I offer will be insufficient. I know Jesus gets it all, and I trust Him. But it doesn’t make answers easy. It doesn’t make life easy. And it doesn’t make faith easy.
But He makes trust easier, because He is always trustworthy.