Are we asking the wrong questions? Let me back up. Lately my reading and learning has been pointing me toward the idea that I've been going about the Christian walk all wrong. I hear people asking hard questions about faith -- about the Bible and about how God answers (and doesn't answer) prayer, among other questions. And while I feel pretty certain about my faith, I don't have any answers. I'm pretty comfortable with uncertainty -- I don't have to know all the answers or have all the inconsistencies resolved to be confident that God knows what he's doing and I need to just let him be God. Because, after all, where was I when the foundations of the earth were laid? But this approach is also pretty lazy, intellectually and spiritually. And it's not real helpful when talking to people aren't comfortable with uncertainty.
Two things I've been learning in the last few weeks suggest a way of dealing with this dilemma.
Much of what Eugene Peterson is saying in Eat this Book points toward reading God's word formationally. Too much of the time we read for information, or to back up our own pet theological concepts. But Peterson argues that the point of reading the Bible -- and it's been the point of reading the Bible through all the centuries of the church -- is to find out what God is doing and come into alignment with that, instead of trying to get God to line up with what we're doing. So if we read the Bible so we can come into a fuller relationship with God, if we understand the Bible as a coherent narrative, then it should have a profound affect on the kinds of questions we're asking.
The second thing I'm chewing over is a broadcast I watched at church of Larry Crabb teaching about prayer. (Our church subscribes to a service that provides access to a large variety of Christian simulcasts and video presentations. So the members of the women's ministry leadership team decided to watch this session about prayer to see if it was something we wanted to use later.) This was excellent teaching -- some of the best teaching about prayer I've heard in a long time. Dr. Crabb talked about the issues he's struggled with in prayer and shared a bit of his journey to a fuller understanding. His main point (and I'm simplifying here) revolved around the idea that we need to be praying to align ourselves with God, instead of trying to get God to align himself with us. Which is not to say that God doesn't answer prayer, but we must first be in relationship with God.
See a theme developing here? (God doesn't always have to hit me over the head with a brick, but sometimes it helps.) I think that instead of asking why God didn't give me what I want, or why he healed that person but not this other person, or why he acted one way in the Old Testament but not in the New Testament -- instead of always asking God to explain himself -- I need to be asking how I can be more in line with his will, how I can participate in what he's doing in the world.
One of my favorite books is The Left Hand of Darkness -- which I'm sure you'll point out is not a Christian book. Still, it contains a lot of truth. One of the plot points of the book is that practitioners of a certain mystical religion seem able to predict the future with remarkable accuracy. It's an arduous process, though, and not one to be undertaken lightly or for casual reasons. At one point, the narrator points out to one of these practitioners that they have a skill that would be highly desirable -- it could be worth millions to the right people. And the practitioner replies something like "Don't you get it? We've perfected the art of foretelling to prove the utter uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question."
Sometimes I think we're like that -- we want to know the answers to all the wrong questions, instead of the only one that is answerable -- we can know God.