There are five questions in life that preoccupy all of us for most to the time. Sometimes we are turning over trivial matters and sometimes we are ruminating/obsessing/agonising over much bigger issues, either personal to us or related to society; but whatever it is we are thinking about, it is likely that our thoughts are framed around one of these six questions:
Okay – so let’s play a little game – if I were a genie and could offer you an answer to just one of those questions, which one would you choose?
What … should I do about my difficult situation/complicated relationship/impossible job (delete as appropriate)?
Where …will I find someone to stand by me/somewhere I will feel at home/my glasses (ditto delete/complete suggestion)
When … am I ever going to get better/will I get the answer I’m waiting for/will the bus arrive?
Why…. did this happen to me/to someone I love/why am I still dealing with the same issue over and over/why do people behave in a way that drives me nuts/why am I so intolerant/anxious/guilty/undisciplined and so on and on and on…
How … on earth am I am meant to succeed with this task/get through today/make healthy meals for my kids/myself/my beloved, how will I do the chores and my job, meet all my social obligations and still have time for me?
Who.. can I ask to help me with this/really understands me/has time for me?
Okay, so that’s probably dredged up at least half of your current anxieties/neuroses.
Sorry but I’m only offering to answer ONE question. You’re going to have to choose – which of all those questions is the most important one? Of course, there may be a difference between the which question is “the most important question” and which one is “the most important one TO YOU” . (I’m only offering to answer the first of these but I think you’ll find it deals with all the other questions).
While you think about that, I’ll just fill in the background to this post. It began with one of those conversations with God which was circling pointlessly around a series of unanswered questions (this time related to being in pain) “what will happen if I don’t get better?”, “why is this happening to me?” , “How on earth will I ever manage x or y if I don’t get better?” and so on. I’m sure The Almighty must find such one-sided conversations somewhat tedious (perhaps that’s why it feels like he’s not listening, he promises he is but frankly I’m so boring once I get started, who could blame him for nodding off). Anyway I wasn’t exactly praying, more like worrying out loud. But it was the fact that I wasn’t getting any answers which most bothered me, almost more than the pain was bothering me. And let’s face it, God’s silence in response to our prayers, questions, complaints is one of the hardest things for a Christian to deal with.
The Bible is full of evidence that human beings have asked these questions over and over and encountered a silent God. ” Why, O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Psalm 10:1 or “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Psalm 13:1.
Why do we keep on praying in such circumstances? Because there is ONE of those questions that God answers:fully, completely, utterly, comprehensively. He answers it over and over again on every single page of the Bible. And it turns out that the answer to this one question is the only answer we ever need. Grasping the answer to this one question can allow us to live contentedly with all the other unanswered questions.
And the question God will answer is ….. (drum roll please)
On every page of the Bible there is a revelation of ‘who’ God is. The Bible is in fact one long explanation of his character. It begins with God as creator, there are pictures of God as a father and as a mother, God compassionately, loving involved with us, intimately involved in the lives of people he creates and calls, metaphors such as ‘teaching us to walk’ and ‘singing over us’. And all that’s just in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we see in Jesus the fullest picture of what God is like – always answering our questions with another deeper questions, always pushing us to become better versions of ourselves.
Then the Holy Spirit comes to reveal that all this amazing ‘who-ness’ of God is able to get right inside us and alongside us, the ever present, active presence of God whose voice we can train ourselves to hear.
It struck me that “who” is the most important question of all because whatever it is that I am facing or that we are facing, the single most important thing is that we are not alone. I would argue that our biggest, deepest, most profound existential fear is that we are completely entirely alone in the universe that our lives are meaningless, that we are a random bunch of cells. If that is all we are then it doesn’t matter how we live or when we die. Whether or not we believe in God most of us recognise that we only begin to have meaning when we come into a relationship with another human being and when we encounter the most profound relationship that is possible (the relationship with the one who created us and loves us and waits for us to find ‘him’) then we discover that “who” is actually the only question that needs answering.
I don’t mean to imply that this ‘answer’ suddenly makes everything ‘easy’ or belittle just how hard it is to live with all our other unanswered questions. I am living with unanswered questions, only small ones, the equivalent of having a stone in your shoe, but many of my friends live with great big massive questions, like carrying heavy rocks in a backpack. I’m just reflecting that out of all the questions we ask, God seems to take very little interest in ‘why, when, what, how or where’ – compared to the way he extravagantly answers the question ‘who’, his response to these questions is positively miserly. We need to ask ourselves why that be so, might it not be that God think ‘who’ is the only question that really needs answering?
The Christian faith is all about learning to live a life of trust in this personal God, believing that he actually exists, that he is who he says he is, letting go of our notions about him that are false and incorrect and learning from his word who he really is. (and one notion that needs losing is obviously the idea that he is male… or female – gender pronouns are a pain!)
As painful as our other questions might be we don’t actually need to know “why” or “how long” what appears to matter most to God is that we should know ‘who’ as in “who will go with me”, “who will meet me”, “prepare a place for me, “remember me”, who is it that promises to “be always with me” God does. Emmanuel means ‘ God with us’ The answer to this question ‘who’ makes all the other unknown variables and unanswered and unanswerable questions in our lives bearable.
I do not know what will happen but I do know who I trust.
I don’t know how things will turn out, how I could possibly be part of God’s mission in the world, like Mary I can say “how can this be, not for the reason she gave, in my case I’m saying “since I am incapable, inadequate, clearly not equal to the task” but I do know who it was who said, “without me you can do nothing but with me (and you are with me and I am with you) you can bear much fruit.
There are many questions in life it’s best not to know the answer to but we still worry about them all the same. We rarely asks the question “when am I going to die?” But we worry about our health all the time.
If we have kids, we worry about what will happen to them if I’m not there to protect them or if (or more likely when) they cease to take my advice about how to live their lives?
What indeed will happen? I do not know but I do know who loves them more than I do, who gave them life and loaned them to me in the first place and what I know about that person, that “who”, is that he is to be trusted, he is caring, compassionate, good and he is the one who ‘let all things work together for good’ and, what’s more, he is the one from whose love I cannot be separated.
My only task is to get to know this “who” person God himself – to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly. This turns out to be the only task that matters. Because the better I know who God is the more able I am to trust him.
Faith is living in a broken, damaged, unsatisfactory world but with an understanding that it was made by a loving creator who is still actively present who has intervened dramatically to begin the process of redemption, transformation, death becoming life and despair becoming hope.
And this is God who is also Father and Son lives and shares his life with me daily, moment by moment by the Power of the Holy Spirit.
It turns out that one answer is enough.
I’ve been struggling with ‘when’. When will this pain stop? What if it doesn’t and this is it? Thank you for your blog. I know that the answer is simple. It doesn’t always feel simple to let go of the worry and trust the ‘who’ does it though? Being a Christian is bloody hard work sometimes.
Thanks Ed, I’ve added a paragraph, which I hope makes it clear that I don’t think it’s easy either