Better to find you, O God, and leave the questions unanswered,
than to find the answers without finding you.
When my children were young they frequently asked childlike questions that cried out for answers. Sometimes their inquiries had deep theological implications, and I sensed that simplistic answers would deny the spiritual hunger that lay at the root of their concerns. Their questions usually came at night, just about the time the lights were to be turned off. All of a sudden out would pop something like: “If God is in heaven, how does he hear my prayers?” “Why did God let grandpa die?” “Why doesn’t God talk back to me?” “How can God understand so many languages?” After we mused about their wonderings I sometimes responded by telling them to add this one to the list of questions they wanted to ask God when they got to heaven.
Our questions about God and God’s ways do not get left behind in childhood, for God is a mystery and God’s ways are often not clear to us. Questioning, or even doubting God, is sometimes seen as sacrilegious or heretical. Yet we are faced with a paradox in our faith life. Do we deny our questions and maintain a surface relationship with the Divine, or do we open ourselves to the wrestling and hope for new understanding and deeper intimacy with the Holy One?
Questions are among the fundamental building blocks on which we base learning. They generate interest in a subject, and they invite investigation and reality testing. Yet it can take a lifetime, or even longer, to find the answers to complex questions. If we are diligent in our search, however, we may learn something of importance along the way. Denying the questions that arise from the very depths of our spirit can erode the foundation on which our faith is built.
Yet, allowing ourselves to question our understanding of God can be frightening as we stand on the sifting sands of our faith. We shudder as we wonder, “Will this process destroy my faith or will it deepen my trust in God?”
It is my belief that God, in great compassion and mercy, welcomes our questions. They often come to us at times when our lives are severely tested by illness, tragedy or other serious losses. Our questioning is really an attempt to make meaning of what has occurred in our lives or the lives of those around us. In the spiritual sense, our queries can awaken us to a relationship of intimacy with God that is based on our unique needs for spiritual insight.
Old images of God die hard. Yet in their dying we may be opened to new consciousness of who God is…for us…in our lives…right now. When we question our understanding of God or God’s ways, and authentically wrestle with the question through prayer, reading, and talking with spiritual mentors, we open ourselves to a process of change.
Some of my questions have been answered and some are still fertile soil for my future spiritual growth…but always they have taken me into deeper relationship with the sacred. Throughout the Bible we encounter faithful people who put questions to God. Some are recorded in the text and others are implied by the situation. Jacob wrestles with God and he goes away with a limp, with God’s blessing and with a new name. His name becomes Israel—“one who strives with God.” The encounter has transformed him. Job laments the loss of family, health, land and cattle. After many questions, and unhelpful direction from his friends, Job encounters God in a whirlwind. His questions are never specifically answered, yet Job is awed by the mystery of God’s ways. Even Jesus questions God. On the cross, as Jesus feels his life-blood draining away, he cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Questions often come when our lives seem most out of control—when we find ourselves in a spiritual desert or wilderness—and when we must look to God for some sense of assurance that there is more to life than what we can see at this time.
I believe questioning is a process of trust building between God and God’s people. We may learn answers to some of our questions quickly; some will take time and patience; others will never be answered on this side of the grave. Our questions acknowledge that God is not wholly distant, but close—the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Perhaps, as Augustine writes, it is not as important to have our questions answered as it is to find God in the process of our asking.
A moving quote by Rainer Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet is a wonderful guide to us as we confront our questions and places of wrestling with God,
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and 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 knowing it, live along some distant day
into the answers.
Thanks be to God,