Questions in a time of pandemic
We all want answers. Many times they are easily given: What time is dinner? When is my trip home? Who will join me? Answers bring clarity and structure to our lives. They help us know what to expect, giving us concrete handles to order our time and thinking. When a question goes unanswered it can feel messy, unresolved or wrought with tension. It can trigger confusion, even chaos. It can breed misunderstanding and—what many of us try our hardest to avoid—discomfort.
But are these always bad things?
Scripture seems to say otherwise. In many places, the biblical writers lead us to sit with our questions a little longer. To not hurry to an answer. They ask challenging questions and don’t give ready solutions. Despite our desire for clarity, this practice actually gives us space to hear from God. We come asking one thing and leave asking another. Rather than being a nuisance or problem, questions in Scripture are presented as an ongoing path to discovery. Often the lesson is found in the very process of questioning. After all, it is often in tension, discomfort, confusion, chaos, and unresolved mess that we encounter God.
Here are two ways Scripture invites us to linger in our questions and encounter God in the process of discovery.
1. Job: Why Am I Suffering?
Job is the prototype of difficult questions. He asks the heavy hitters: Why is life so hard? Why do we suffer? Will we humans live again? Where is wisdom found? (Job 7:1; 14:14; 28:12). Job wants to know the reasons for his suffering, the origins of his pain, and the ways to avoid it. Again and again Job laments to God. He literally sits in the discomfort and mess—on a garbage dump (Job 2:8). More than anything, he wants his suffering to end. Job demands an answer.
But God’s answer comes in the form of more questions: “Can you answer the questions I ask?” (Job 38:3). God’s questions take Job across the span of creation: Did you ever tell the sun to rise? Have you ever walked on the ocean floor? Have you seen the gate to the world of the dead? How large is the earth? (Job 38:12, 16, 17, 18). God’s questions shift Job’s perspective to recognize God’s dominion over everything. God is bigger than Job’s questions and God’s ways cannot be explained. God’s questions point Job towards this mystery—letting God be God.
Who is God? Who is this deity who created Job and the wild animals—and cares for both? (Job 40:15). Who is this Almighty God who laid the foundations of the earth, set the boundaries of the sea, and keeps the seasons in motion (Job 40:1; 38:10; 38:4; 38:29-30)? Scripture reminds us that God is beyond our understanding and cannot be summed up by our logic or reasoning—or even constrained to the words on the page (Hebrews 4:12).
2. The Psalms: Putting Words to Mystery
The Psalms illustrate this well by using poetry and lyrical language to express the inexpressible. The writers use metaphors to give us images of God’s character. God is described as a shield and a fortress because he protects and defends (Psalm 7:10; 11:1). They invoke human features to help us encounter God in ways we can relate to. God has a strong arm (17:14), a thundering voice (18:13), and is likened to a shepherd (23), a mother (131:2), and king (24:10). Each of these metaphors point to truths about God, without trying to be definitive.
The Psalms show us that we are always reaching for ways to describe a mysterious God. God is revealed in the biblical writings, in felt encounters and recorded histories, but even our language falls short in describing such majesty. Rather than bringing literal definitions, these poems make room in our understanding for God to live and breathe. They invite us to come asking who God is and leave with a more expansive—and inconclusive—understanding. The Psalms draw us into a relationship of trust and obedience, moving us beyond mere knowledge or intellectual ability.
Keep asking questions. As we continue reading Scripture, let’s keep asking questions. Every encounter with the Bible is an opportunity to get to know a God who is greater than our wildest imagination, a God who cannot be defined by our questions or fully known through our answers. But we encounter new facets of God’s mystery through this ongoing process of discovery—and the encounter will always exceed our expectations!
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