I used to think having faith meant having answers, and now I think having faith means living with the questions.
When I became a Christian and started attending church and bible study and youth group in high school, it was exciting, like making a new friend. You get to know each other. You play games and go on outings. You’re eager to see each other again when you’re apart. You are thrilled to feel connected and included and loved by someone new. It’s exhilarating.
The more I went to church, the more in love I fell with faith and the Bible and Jesus. But the more I went to church, the more questions I had, too. Big questions and small questions, my own and other people’s, they were myriad and I searched for answers. Sometimes reading the Bible is like trying to solve a puzzle– and I love puzzles– but unfortunately the solutions aren’t always clear or simple. In fact, they rarely are.
Do we take Genesis literally, with its seven-day creation? Do we take any of the Bible literally? Can we be sure scripture is done being written? Is Heaven reserved for only some? How can Heaven– an eternal happy ending– even be real if we know some people aren’t included? Do we just forget about those people? Does God really hear me when I pray? Is God even there at all? There were times when these questions threatened it all.
And then there were questions that divided the church and created frightening polarities of us/them, in/out. Is homosexuality a sin? What does it mean to be pro-life or pro-choice? Is there such a thing as a just war? How do we talk to people of other faiths or no faith?
Eventually, I had to decide whether I wanted to keep looking for answers and insisting on answers, or if I could live with the questions. And I realized I could live with them and choose faith– not faith in spite of the questions, but rather faith because of the questions, which requires us to be humble and uncertain and vulnerable and ever-seeking, and I want to be that person. I can understand why God wants us to be that kind of person.
It’s funny because when I look back at the beginning of my faith, which started at a small bible study led by a friend’s dad, what kept me coming back was the uncertainty. I remember we would ask so many questions, and sometimes our fearless leader would say, “I don’t know.” Even then, I knew that honest answer was the only one that I needed because I didn’t want someone to pretend they knew it all or even that all the answers were out there. I wanted someone to tell me the truth about the fragility of this faith. I wanted someone to tell me about a faith so wonderful that having all the answers didn’t even matter. If he had always given us answers to all our questions, I’m not sure I would have been convinced, skeptic that I am sometimes. Not knowing the answers felt more real, more honest.
So when the excitement of my new faith worn off and I was confronted with questions about love and justice and mercy– questions that shook me– I forgot that “I don’t know” was still an adequate answer. For a long time, I thought having faith meant having answers, but now I’ve gained back that perspective of “I don’t know.”
I don’t know why this happened to you, but I’ll sit with you until you feel like you can go on. I don’t know which is the right thing to do, but I’ll love you no matter what you choose. I don’t know what happens next, but I’ll walk beside you as the next thing comes. I don’t know, but love is always the way through.