Tuesday, March 9, 2021

On "Why?"

I am an insanely curious person. When something happens, I want to know why. I want to know the reason behind the reason behind the reason. I want things to make sense. They may not be pleasant, but at least they make sense. 

Remember as a kid? Remember asking why? "Why?" "Because." "Because why?" 

I used to think that in order to be a good Christian I had to have answers. All the answers. I had to be able to articulate the truth and debate the doubter. I needed to have the final trump card to turn the skeptic devout and to comfort those who, like me, were always asking why.

But as I have gotten older, scrambling for answers hasn't done a lot for me. In fact, it has left me with just more questions. The snake eating its tail in the shape of a question mark. There is so much I just don't know. 

Job's friend assumed they knew a lot. When he was sitting in his ash heap turned home place, his friends all decided that what he needed was a good explanation a la theology class. They oh so confidently dished out their explanations, their reasoning, their proclamation of God and his ways. Only they were wrong and they went down in history as Exhibit A in bad theology and what not to say to one who is suffering. 

What makes us think we have to have the answers? After all, God tells us that our ways are not his ways and our thought are not his thoughts. Certainly there are more things than not in this world, in this life, that are hidden, and hidden for a reason. And wasn't the temptation to eat from the knowledge of good and evil? Then they would know it all. Then they would be like God. But they aren't. And we aren't. 

Then we need to stop it with all the dogmatic decrees. For over 2000 years those who believe in the God of the universe and all creation have disagreed on so very much. If God wanted it so clear, would he not have made it so? 

Austin Fischer in his excellent book on doubt, Faith in the Shadows, says that "...when we claim the Bible clearly teaches something that has been rigorously debated by the best and most faithful minds for thousands of years, we could at least have the decency to blush. A couple thousand years of mercurial biblical interpretation suggest we're not very good at being honest with ourselves." 

When we think we have to have not just an answer but THE answer, we grow frantic. We grow grumpy. We grow proud. As if the whole of creation depends on our understanding of it. And when we think we have all the answers, we then become highly prescriptive, shrinking the Kingdom of God down to our preferences and dishing it out in student handbook form. Homework turned in late gets a zero. No skirts above the knee. No chewing gum in class. There's a place for everything and everything is in its place. If this, then that. Vending machine Christianity. 

I no longer try to understand a lot of things that don't make sense. I no longer try to have just the right answer to every question. And I actually no longer trust anybody who thinks they have all the answers. 

I've learned to say, "I don't know" in an awful lot of situations. Because, well, I don't. 

In the 1993 film Rudy, Sean Aston plays Rudy Ruettiger, a young man who is desperately grasping for his lifelong dream of playing football for Notre Dame. In his conversation with a priest, Father Kavanaugh (played by Robert Prosky) he asks some hard questions. The priest's response is the best line in the movie, and my favorite movie line of all time.

"Son, in 35 years of religious studies, I have come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God and I am not him." 

If you ask me hard questions that will likely be the answer you will get. That is about all I know at this point. I think it is OK to let the questions be, to sit in mystery and uncertainty. Because, after all, I am not God. 

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