Jill Carattini’s devotionals at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries challenge me. Today she writes about unanswerable questions. I chuckled as I read, “more than a few of my plaguing inquiries were probably the wrong inquiries.” God led me to that conclusion in mid-life and I learned to be more comfortable with the ambiguity of life and trust God more fully. I also learned to embrace Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Loose translation: God has His reasons and He may or may not choose to tell me. I am to respond in obedience, however, to the things He has chosen to show me and I am to teach my children, biological or spiritual, to do the same. I have found that is a place I can live.
Where Do You Live?
Like many Generation Xers, I have spent a great deal of my life asking questions. In retrospect, it seems that more than a few of my plaguing inquires were probably the wrong inquiries. In fact, more than a few of my questions were probably even unanswerable. But it took me a while to be able to admit there existed such distinctions. When you are a child and inquiry is your way of gaining a handle on the world around you, you come to believe that every question is right, and every inquiry deserves an answer that satisfies. And there is some truth to that comforting thought: questions are valid and answers should satisfy. Later, when social pressure begins to stress conformity and asking questions carries the risk of embarrassment, we learn to repress our inquisitiveness, even as those who still see the value in inquiring minds offer the ready assurance, “There are no wrong questions!” And this may be true as well, particularly in a classroom. But it does not mean that one cannot ask an unanswerable question or inquire in such a way that simply fails to cohere with reality. Is your idea blue or purple? How much time is in the sky? I imagine a great number of the questions we ask along the way are in fact quite similar.
When it comes to faith, we are actually instructed in the Christian religion to carry into our discipleship some of the qualities we held as children. I suspect a child’s passion for inquiry is one of the traits Jesus intended in his directive: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” But the childlike expectation that every inquiry is capable of being answered to our satisfaction, that every question is capable of being answered now (or even answered at all) is likely not the quality he was encouraging us to keep.
Regardless, Jesus readily received the questions of those around him, whether they were asked with ulterior motive or childlike abandon; no inquiry was turned away. Of course, this is not to say that he always answered, or that he always satisfied the questioner. Actually, more often than not, he replied with a question of his own. “Who gave you the authority to do what you are doing?” the scribes asked. Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question; answer me and I will answer you. Did the baptism of John come from heaven or human origin?” Knowing they were stuck between conceding to Jesus’s authority and risking the wrath of the crowd, they refused to answer. So Jesus refused as well.
Hopefully, beyond learning that questions, like words, can be used as ammunition, we also learn as we grow from inquiring children to questioning adults that questions are not deserving of satisfactory answers simply because they are asked. Most of us can now admit that there are some questions that simply can’t be satisfied. And yet, we scarcely take this wisdom with us into the realms of faith and belief. Standing before a God whose wisdom is said to be many-sided, we somehow feel that God can and must answer our every inquiry. But questioning an all-knowing God does not presuppose that the question itself was even rational. In fact, Jesus’s reactions to the questions around him seem to verify the strong possibility that many of our questions miss the point entirely.
So what does it mean if many of our great questions of ultimate reality and theological inquiry are as unanswerable as the child who wants to know God’s home address? First, the question isn’t wrong in the sense that it has no meaning for the inquirer. Nor does a question’s unanswerability mean we must walk away from the inquiry entirely disheartened. On the contrary, even in questions that cannot be answered there rings the promise of an answerer who satisfies. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”(1) God may not have a physical address, but the fleshly dwelling of the Incarnate Son of God is nearer and greater than we imagine.
The desire to know, the curiosity that formed the question, and the assumption that someone indeed holds the answer, are all forces that compel a child to ask in the first place. This compulsion to know Jesus encouraged in every questioner, however he chose to answer them. Perhaps he knew that in becoming like children who long to see we would be moved further up and farther into the self-disclosing presence and communion of Father, Son, and Spirit. Inquiry is not in opposition to faith; it is faith’s road to the good answerer.
Interestingly, one of the first questions the disciples asked Jesus was, “Where do you live?” He simply answered, “Come and see.”
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:9.