Friday, September 30, 2005

Beyond the Questions

“Jesus knew that they wanted to ask Him…” (John 16:19). The disciples’ heads were full of questions. They had heard some quite extraordinary things: Jesus was returning to the Father, the world was going to hate them, the Spirit of Truth was coming to enlighten them, etc. They had way too much to process, and I’m sure they were in complete agreement with Jesus when He said: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12).

They did ask Jesus one question, which He answered in his own mysterious way, Himself admitting that He spoke “in figures.” Then, still not quite understanding, but with a bit of false bravado, they exclaimed: “Now we know that You know all things, and there is no need for anyone to question You!” That they didn’t get it was clear from Jesus’ immediate prediction that in his hour of need they would all desert Him.

But the disciples were right about one thing: He does know all things and there is no need to question Him. Not that it’s wrong to question God; He’s quite understanding and indulgent with our gropings and perplexities. But if we do decide to question God, there are two other things that need to be done: 1) Wait long enough to receive an answer, and/or 2) Realize that even though He has much to tell us, we cannot bear it now. The latter is the one we’ll most often have to accept.

In C.S. Lewis’ marvelous paradisal novel, Perelandra, the embattled hero asks a question of a great Angel about some deep mystery, only to receive the reply that there was no “holding-place” in his limited mind for the answer. He did eventually receive a flash of insight concerning the Great Dance, that intricately interwoven tapestry—or fabulously, minutely interconnected glorious grid—of God’s providential design for all times, places, persons, and things, from galaxies to grains of dust, but it was so overwhelmingly brilliant, wondrous, and mind-exploding that he could barely grasp enough even to begin to adequately articulate it. But the thing to hold on to for now is that there is a plan (or countless interdependent ones), there are answers, and God is the Master of the universe and of our own individual destinies.

We have to realize that we’re just not ready or able to receive all there is to know about the divine mysteries, or even those of the material cosmos and our own souls. There will always be questions, and sometimes we frustrate ourselves needlessly. We have to get beyond the questions, or beyond the need to constantly ask questions, especially if we do it in an over-curious, impatient, or arrogant manner. But to go beyond the questions is not necessarily to go to the place of answers—it is to go to the place of confidence in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Just knowing that there is a design, a plan, worked out from time immemorial by a loving God, should ease our anxious uncertainties about all the vicissitudes of life and the threats to our fragile security. We’re not cut adrift, we’re not accidental, we’re not unknown or forgotten, we’re not random chunks of evolved protoplasm milling about a spinning orb of rock and water, heading towards an ultimate and meaningless dissolution.

Jesus said that the Spirit of Truth would teach us all things. He said that so that in Him we might have peace (John 16:33). Trust in Him; wait for the Promise of the Father. Move beyond the questions. Don't fret over what you don't understand. After all, we’re in the hands of Angels, those bright and glorious “ministering spirits sent forth…for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). If we don’t have holding-places in our minds for all the mysteries, let’s at least hold in our hearts some trust in that ineffably transcendent yet intimately personal God, who loved us enough to give us a unique place in his marvelous design.