As much as I like questions, I recognize that there is an issue with them for many people–I might have said problem but I can’t quite see the issue as a problem, at least for me. An example of the issue comes from the question that interrupted my sermon on forgiveness that I mentioned in my last post. We spent a lot of time on the question, had a lot of discussion, opened a lot of ideas–but we didn’t actually end up with a definitive answer to the question. The individual who asked the question was still struggling when we left worship. He wasn’t upset, he wasn’t angry, he wasn’t anxious–he needed to work on the question some more. In other words, he didn’t get an answer to his question.
For some people, questions are only vehicles on the way to the answer. For them, the answer is the key and the question is not all that important. In fact, some people would prefer if there were only answers and no questions. There is an anxiety and tension associated with unanswered questions that really affects some people.
When I was a university student many years ago, I had a professor who had a unique approach to the whole question/answer thing. In our first class, he told us to feel free to ask questions. And then he said he could answer any question we had. He paused to let us digest that comment and then just before the bravest of us got ready to jump on him, he added that a lot of the times, his answer would be “I don’t know”.
Some people just can’t get to that point, especially people in authority like teaches an pastors and so on. We sometimes seem to think we have to have an answer to every question, which leads us to fake answers or forbid questions–neither of which is a good solution.
I think we have to understand that although there is probably an answer for every question, nobody knows all the answers to all questions–and there are going to be some questions that no human knows the answer to. And that means that no teacher knows all the answers, no pastor knows all the answers, no leader knows all the answers and so there are going to be questions that sit there unanswered.
And that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked. The asking is important. Sometimes, asking by the right person at the right time leads to an answer. Sometimes, asking doesn’t lead to a direct answer but leads to something that is just as helpful as an answer. And sometimes, the question just sits there, challenging and pushing and forming the basis for a lot of things even without an answer.
I have no doubt that all questions can be answered and will be answered, if not during time then when time ends and we begin eternity in the presence of God. But for now, I have learned to live with unanswered questions because the asking of the question is important. I have learned that there is no harm in not having an answer for some questions–in fact, trying to provide an answer is sometimes harmful.
When someone asks me as their pastor why they have cancer or why their mother has Alzheimer’s or why a child dies, there is absolutely no answer I can give that will really answer their question. They have to ask the question and I have to listen to them ask the question but if I try to provide the “acceptable” pat answer, it does them absolutely no good. They are driven by a need to ask the question, but probably recognize on some level that there is no answer that will really satisfy them. My role as their pastor or teacher or friend is to allow them to ask the question, not to pretend I know the answer. If I am honest and tell them I don’t know the answer, we are both better off.
I love questions and I love answers–but I know some questions stand on their own–they can’t be answered now and therefore the asking of the question is what is important. When we ask the questions with no answers, we are not wasting time. We are being honest, we are being real and we are probably going to open a door for our faith to help us in the process.
May the peace of God be with you.