Why We Need Unanswered Questions
We all pray seeking answers. But maybe we can find God most in the ones He doesn't answer.
I remember vividly when my wife, Sara, called me in a hotel room. I was on a business trip and wasn’t expecting her call—in fact, she rarely called when we were apart. We had been married for almost four years, but our marriage was far from the picture-perfect relationship that many imagined. We looked like a couple in a J.Crew catalog, but our marriage didn’t mirror the happy, carefree lifestyle portrayed in catalogs and magazines.
As I answered the phone that evening—high atop a twinkling city hundreds of miles from home—I was in hell. Our marriage was on the brink of disaster, and I knew it. We had been to numerous marriage counselors, but they never seemed to help. We needed Jesus, but there was never enough of Him. We needed grace, but there was never enough of that—not in our relationship.
As I heard Sara’s voice on the other end of the phone, she sounded different. For the first time in months, she wasn’t angry. She was sad, forlorn.
“I loved you,” she said. “I called to tell you that I really loved you.” “Loved.” Past tense.
“Will I see you when I get back tomorrow?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Will you be running errands or something?”
“I don’t know.”
That was the last time I would ever talk to Sara as her husband. For years, I focused on head knowledge—Bible facts, theology and answers—all the while neglecting the heart. I became a Jesus-follower late in college, and my first Jesus experiences were emotive. But somehow, they became less and less so. As time passed, I attempted to prove to myself—and any doubters I encountered—that the Jesus story was valid, that it really happened, that everyone should believe it.
I became interested in theology, primarily out of a desire to “know all the answers” to all the big questions. My shelves were lined with impressive-sounding books, written by “defenders of the faith” or professors with long credentials. I don’t mean to dismiss such books or dismiss the importance of theology, but sometimes it’s not enough; in fact, sometimes it misses the point entirely, like when you’re more interested in being “right” than in loving people.
And so as I sleep in a queen-sized bed by myself tonight—the same bed my wife and I once shared—simply knowing that God is there is enough for me, too. It has to be. Of course, I still have questions for God, but I’ve become comfortable with the tension of not knowing, the tension that comes from embracing a faith that cannot be fully deciphered, parsed, chopped up and dissected. Some things are mysterious—especially God. Yes, He can be known, but how can an infinite being who has no beginning and no end ever fully be known by us: clumsy humans who stumble along in the dark, groping for meaning and truth and answers?
It’s funny how inadequate theology seems when your wife leaves, funny how our life experiences sometimes butt heads with our ideas about life. How could a loving God let this happen … to me? The answer requires a knowing that transcends textbooks or theology, a knowing that sees with the heart, a knowing that exists between two lovers or between a parent and a child, the sort of knowing that says, “Even if it’s not OK, it will be OK.”
When Sara left, the need to know all the answers—to fit all of the stories of Scripture and all the stories of my life into a neatly wrapped theological box—went out the window. When Sara left, nothing made sense. When Sara left, all I knew was hurt, pain, doubt. I was only 26 and completely unprepared for the heartache of divorce. I suppose that no one, no matter what his age, is ever prepared for divorce. But in my youthful naiveté I thought Christians didn’t get divorced. I thought Christians found a way. But the sad reality is that, sometimes, Christians don’t find a way. The sad reality is that Christians are broken people, just like everyone else.
Sara and I had a difficult marriage, but I never expected to come home from a business trip and find half the furniture gone; I never expected to find a typed letter on the kitchen table with no forwarding address and no explanation for her leaving. It did say, “I’m preparing to file for divorce.” I thought, Why would God let this happen? Did I deserve this? How would something so hurtful ever be used for good?
I used to think there was a tidy answer for everything, that the Bible provided answers to every question on earth—but it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not true; it just means God never intended to answer all of our questions. Job is perhaps the best example of this. The Scriptures tell us God allowed Satan to do terrible things to Job—kill most of his family, take away his wealth, put horrible sores on his body—and yet Job never learns why. He asks all sorts of questions of God and never gets a theological explanation. Instead, he gets all sorts of questions right back from God. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand, who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
God’s point seems to be this: I know more than you will ever know. And, believe me, there are some things you will never know.
In the end, Job learns his lesson; he learns that sometimes simply knowing that God is there is enough. It is a lesson that I continually must take to heart.
And so today, some of my deepest, most profound moments with God come not during church services or reading works of theology or even reading the Bible. They come in all sorts of surprising places—a U2 song, a hug from a friend, a good laugh, a walk through the woods or even watching a well-made movie. Or sometimes, these incredible moments with God come in silent, painful times—times of not knowing, times when you sit and wonder why life turned out the way it did, times spent wondering why your wife left, times spent wondering why you have to hurt so badly. And slowly, you come to sense deep within your soul that it will be OK, that the tension between faith and doubt, knowing and not knowing, fact and mystery is a tension worth embracing.
This article originally appeared in RELEVANT. Click here to subscribe.