As Christians, we like to have the answers. It’s the whole “asking questions” part we’re not so sure about.
Take a look at how much energy the evangelical industrial complex devotes to giving answers. If you search for products with the word “answer” in them, one Christian retail site has more than 16,000 results. The Jesus Answer Book. The Bible Answer Book. The COMPLETE Bible Answer Book. The Big Book of Questions and Answers. The Big Book of Bible Answers.
We have Answers in Genesis to allay our nagging concerns about the origins of the universe. We have our very own Bible Answer Man. We’ve outsourced questioning so that others can come up with the answers for us.
But what’s the underlying motive to this preemptive strike on questions? Is it fear? The fear that if you ask one wrong question — or one too many questions — the whole edifice of faith will come crashing down?
If you take a closer look at the scriptures, you begin to see just how little they resemble our modern-day obsession with answers. The biblical story is full of unanswered questions.
The whole book of Job is an exercise in asking hard questions, a reminder how little we know, how little we can be sure of. What’s even more amazing about this story is that God is summoned to give an account to account by a riches-to-rags alleged miscreant.
The better part of Job is taken up by his friends’ attempts to silence his questions. They accuse him of wrongdoing. They insinuate that he’s guilty of heresy and blasphemy. They posit canned answers to Job’s complex questions.
Yet Job persists.
You have to give him credit. Job was bold. He assumed the right to question God. The language of his complaint is that of a lawsuit, of someone taking their adversary before the judge — except, for Job, his adversary and judge are the same person.
In other words, Job just wants his day in court. He wants permission to ask the hard questions.
And he’s convinced that God will be OK with that… if only God would show up:
If only I knew where to find him;
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
When God does finally show up, Job doesn’t get the answers he’s looking for. Only more questions, a stark and humbling reminder that the universe is big and mysterious and that our knowledge — our answers — don’t even scratch the surface.
But Job was not condemned for asking questions. Job was vindicated. His friends, on the other hand, were rebuked for trying to shut him up, for trying to silence his questions with hastily contrived answers.
How many of us could stand in for Job’s friends? Afraid to ask questions. Desperate for airtight answers to supress our nagging doubts.
It’s not that answers are bad — when there are some to be had. It’s what kind of answers we seek. If the answers you give (or receive) are meant to end the conversation rather than nurture it, they are probably the wrong kind of answers.
To follow God is to ask a lot of questions, including some that can’t be answered — not even by all 16,000 answer books at your Christian bookstore.