Do we fear the questions or the answers?
Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? What happens when we die? Why do bad things happen to good people? How could God have always existed? If God is good, why does He allow so much evil in the world? Will God really judge evil? Is there a heaven and a hell, and would a God of love really send people to hell for all eternity? Aren't all religions the same, just different paths to the same thing? Is there such a thing as a sin nature? If there is, what does that mean? Does love really win in the end?
What is love, and is our interpretation of love the same definition as God's love as portrayed in the Bible? Does faith matter? And what does Jesus' death on the cross have to do with us?
It seems to be a popular trend these days to ask questions. Some are answerable, some are not. Some seem to be asked for the sake of asking, not for the sake of receiving any kind of answer. I hope in the mix there are people who are truly asking because they are seeking the truth.
In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." ESV
This statement followed Jesus' teaching on the Mount of Olives where he gave what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon, Jesus taught the people how to live life. He talked about our purpose to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). He spoke of his purpose to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). He taught on attitudes toward anger, lust, divorce, swearing, retaliation, love for our enemies, giving to the poor, praying, fasting, materialism, anxiety, judging others, asking and seeking, how to treat each other, how to recognize false prophets, what true belief looks like, and the foundation on which to build a life.
He used a common phrase, "You have heard it said...but I say unto you," taking the teaching of their scribes to a new level. For those who thought murder was the ultimate sin, Jesus raised the bar and got to the heart of the matter, pointing out that to be angry with your brother is a sin just as murder is a sin. Both will be judged. He told them lust and adultery had the same root cause and both were sin.
Jesus did not mince words. He spoke truth with authority and His authority amazed the people because He was not like their scribes. You know murder is wrong, well, so is anger. You know adultery is wrong, well, so is lust. (Jill's paraphrase.) But he also wanted his audience to think, much like the people asking questions today want us to think, and Jesus used the same tool. He asked questions.
"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" (Matt. 5:13 ESV)
"For if you love those who love you what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matt. 5:46-47 ESV)
"Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing?...if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Matt. 6:26b, 27, 30 ESV)
He often went on to answer his own questions, as he did in the last example, but I wonder if the reason He asked them was to provoke deeper thought, to get people to stop and realize a few things. If I'm supposed to be the salt of the earth as He said, and I've lost that saltiness, what does that mean? What is He saying?
He was speaking to the Jews of His day, and they have always been a people set apart by God meant to give the message of hope, of God's mercy and grace, to the world around them. They were in danger of losing their saltiness and light because they'd become too wrapped up in the teachings of their scribes and in practicing the traditions of men, forgetting the purpose of God.
The scribes had also taught them that it was okay to love their friends and hate their enemies, but Jesus told them to love their enemies. Radical teaching even today. How many people in the name of religion have set out to destroy those they consider their enemies? How many of us greet those who hate us? How many of us hate those who are not like us?
The scribes were also caught up in materialism, food and clothing and having the best seats in the house. They had the wealth and the power and they focused on this life. The Sadducees didn't believe in an afterlife, so they were living their finest life here and now.
And yet Jesus asked, "Why do you worry about your life? You can't add a single cubit to your height (about 18 inches) and you can't add a single hour to how long you will live." (Some versions say one thing, some another, so I included both.)
But the teachers of the law (the scribes, the Sadduccees, the Pharisees) didn't seem to ponder those questions. Instead, they sent people to ask Jesus questions like, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" or "Why do your disciples break the traditions of the elders?" They were asking the wrong questions. And they got offended at Jesus' answers.
I wonder how many times we ask the wrong questions even today, or how often we get offended by those who do ask them. Yet it is not wrong to ask. Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to knock and it will be given to you. If we really want the truth, Jesus is willing to give it to us. Sometimes I think we fear the questions, so we lash out with pat answers and religious dogma at those doing the asking.
But we need not fear the questions.
God is big enough to handle them.
However...we should also not be afraid of the answers. There are those today who would do nothing but ask questions, as though they do not want answers or as though to actually find an answer would be impossible. They would suggest that everything is a paradox, that there are no absolutes.
It is true, there are some things in life that will remain a mystery until God explains them. Things like Why do bad things happen to good people? Or How could God have always existed?
But the fact is, there are also absolute answers that Jesus plainly states in His teachings. They are there for us to find, if we are seeking. We need not fear the questions or the answers.
We need only fear not asking the right ones.