Normally that statement would be understood as “finding answers to questions”, right? But in this case, it is more about a progression over the years of thinking that it is about finding answers and moving to realizing that it is more about the questions.
I had originally written this long post about this stack of Bibles and how they represent the flow of my life as one trying to follow the way of Jesus. If you want to hear more of that flow, you can listen to my sermon from this past Sunday. However, as I wrote it out I found myself asking, “why am I putting this out?” Well, the answer to the photograph of these Bibles came when listening to a podcast while driving to my long Friday hike with Scout.
In the latest mini-episode of OnBeing, Krista Tippett quoted Rainer Maria Rilke:
Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I have read a good deal of Rilke’s poetry but I have not read that book or heard that quote before. But as I was listening, those words deeply resonated with me and helped me to see the progression of my faith life. Those first two Bibles at the bottom were the Bibles that were a part of the seeds of faith being sown in my life – from my parents, grandparents and before and then in the Bible I was given when I was in elementary school. But when it came to the middle Bible (NIV Study Bible) and that stage of my faith journey, it was more about answer finding than being comfortable with questions. For me at that time, all the questions had to have answers. I was big into apologetics – knowing all the ways that I can out-argue others about questions around Christianity. I had Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict books (both volumes) on my desk and they were well worn reads. I wasn’t willing to sit with uncomfortability and uncertainty but instead they needed to be explained away.
And then came times when the pat answers stopped working.
In conversations with others at seminary. In visits at the hospital as a chaplain. In my own faith life. In dealing with things that I thought were settled and clear but were far from. I viewed those initially as setbacks or as if I had somehow lost my way along the way of Jesus.
But slowly over the last few decades (yes, that long), I have come to recognize that it is more about living the questions (as Rilke so beautifully shared) and being willing to be in uncertain spaces, grateful for times when answers seem to come but also grateful for the times when the wrestling around them needs to continue. I am grateful that God is in the midst of the questions, that sometimes I feel like God is asking the questions themselves, and that God isn’t simply about answers. I am grateful to continue to be learning something that Ms Tippett also shared in the podcast this morning.
I have learned that questions elicit answers in their likeness — that answers rise or fall to the questions they meet. We’ve all seen this. We’ve all experienced it. It’s very hard to respond to a combative question with anything but a combative answer. It’s almost impossible to transcend a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. But the opposite is also true: it’s hard to resist a generous question. This is a skill that needs relearning, but I believe that we all have it in us to ask questions that invite, that draw forth searching in dignity and revelation. There is something redemptive and lifegiving about asking a better question. Link