I keep a book of quotations. It looks exactly like any other journal, but it’s for a different kind of journaling. Journaling with the words of other writers, if you will. Here I scribble down quotations from all kinds of books: poetry, theology, memoir, literary theory, fiction, you name it. I write down anything I want to remember.
I recently finished Amy Boesky's memoir What We Have, in which she describes her attempts to live unafraid despite the hereditary cancer that had killed nearly every woman in her family. Toward the end, she writes: "Now, I wanted to ask the right questions, not give the right answers. Was that what it meant to grow up?"
This is exactly what growing up has meant for me. Fewer answers. Better questions. So much less fear.
When I was a child, I assumed that the adults around me had all the answers. Maybe all kids think that. I imagine it's the only way to keep the enormity of the whole strange, unfamiliar world at bay.
Here are just a few of the things I once thought I knew (or, at the very least, was sure I would know once I found the exact right book or expert): what happens when we die, why the innocent suffer, the eternal fate of those who've never heard the name Jesus, how to get children to sleep all night in their own beds . . . I'll stop there, but, trust me, I could go on.
I'm afraid that I, like so many Christians, have taken the imperative in I Peter to "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" just a little too far.
There is only one answer that we can all give with total confidence: Jesus.
Do we need to have answers neatly packaged for every question that plagues our culture (gay marriage, government debt, capital punishment, organic food vs locally grown)? Big, important questions proliferate all around us on a daily basis, and I applaud those who are (let's recall the rest of I Peter 3: 15 here), with "gentleness and respect," seeking out answers. But our faith does not rest on these things.
It's okay to say, "I don't know." More often than not, it's the only honest answer we can give.
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (I Corinthians 13: 12).
If answers were what really mattered, we would be given them. Instead, we've been told to love and not to fear. We can't go wrong if we stick to that.
One day every question will be answered (and I imagine that many questions will simply disappear because they never really mattered). These answers will come, not with words, but in a face. We shall see face to face.
In his novel Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis, an English professor who loved words, put words in their proper place: "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words."
I too love words, but words can’t get me out of bed some days. On those days, I get up and keep going only because I glimpse the face of the One who made me, the One who knows me, the One who yet loves me.