Hope Awaits: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er]

“What is the answer?” [ I was silent ] “In that case, what is the question?” (The last words of Gertrude Stein as told by Alice B. Toklas in her book, What Is Remembered.)

I like questions. I see questions all around me. They tug at my brain and my heart. They draw me in and push me forward because I want to solve the puzzle they pose. In my occasional work as a journalist-interviewer, I seek to find the previously unasked question for my subject to consider. And if I hit that jackpot, their face certainly registers something, because I’ve touched something deep. Perhaps they scowl at what I ask, or perhaps their face lights up in delight – but there is no neutrality with provocativity!

My love of questions is probably why I pursued training as a futurist, because some of the most fascinating of all questions to me deal with what the future could-should-will be. In that regard, once I was even introduced for a guest lecture on church and culture as “Someone who is working on answers to questions that no one else is asking yet.” And in my blogging, one of the reasons I use movies so much as illustrations is because they have enough time to develop a theme – to ask a question that typically has some kind of biblical answer available.

I see questions generated in what I do, what I experience, what we do as groups of people. I wrote previously about how a subculture forms around values that pose a question to the surrounding mainstream culture. And in that question is their quest – the journey to find their answer to a question with an unsatisfying answer posed by the conventional culture.

The past few days, I’ve had a surprising series of conversations about questions. The core ideas boil down to this:

In the storyline of our lives, a spiritual question resides. Questions we pick up from our providential circumstances – like “Why me, God?” and “Who am I and how do You want to use me?” – help sensitize us to watch for the answer. And we simply cannot fully figure out the answer in advance. Hopefully, as we process the “embedded question” as best we can, it readies our discernment to see the answer when it unveils itself. And, ultimately it turns out the Answer is not a what … it is a Who, an Answerer.

I think this is part of the story of Job and why it resonates so deeply with us. Of course, there are questions about God’s character that arise when such a horrific series of events happen in the life of this man. Of course, it seems like God doesn’t care, doesn’t respond, and actually allows or causes evil to happen. However, give Him time and He will answer – or at least He will be the Answerer. Hopefully we become satisfied with Him, even if we are not satisfied with His answer.

But questions are not always “negative” kinds of “Are You a sadist, God?” wonderments that seem to assail or assault God’s character. Think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she asks in essence, “Who am I that You would even consider me at all?” Her question seems more tied in to an unveiling of God’s character than a questioning of it.

Really, though, I believe both kinds of questions are a revelation. And if we choose to interpret life in a larger narrative framework, we’ll work to perceive God’s providence as a text in the context of “the watching universe.” Something deep and unique is going on in the life of every individual, every couple, every family, every community, every ethnicity, every race, every nation, every civilization. Something that reveals a unique flash of color from multiple facets of the Triune God’s character. Something – and this may get me in trouble with missional friends but I’ll say it anyway – something that goes beyond simply an enfleshed message for the missio dei, but something that addresses the denouement of restoration for all God’s creation and not just us as humans made in His image.

I believe this is why we resonate with storylines that resolve in justice done, love lived out, wounded parties reconciled, health restored, etc. Our hearts are wired with desires for God’s justice, love, healing, restoration to be made manifest – as they surely will in the due course of time. But until we see the full reality of which these storylines are a mere reflection, we wait in the midst of the questions of our lives which lead us onward to seeking for the Answerer.

(Sidenote: For several years, I’ve argued that the missio dei is too narrow and potentially narcissistic of an integration point for our theologies. I’ve suggested the need to expand to a broader narrative approach that sees God’s working among all the actors on His stage of creation – angels elect and fallen, the earth, the universe, and humanity. This gives us a larger and more holistic picture of what in the cosmos God is doing, and a better base for understanding the dynamic tensions among spiritual warfare, ecology, anthropology, soteriology, and etceterology. Ultimately, it offers us a better base for dialogue with people from other spiritual and religious traditions whose approaches address more of these areas than we typically do. Anyway, I’m tentatively planning a series on this for 2009, after I’ve finished up any series note yet completed from 2008.)

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5 thoughts on “Hope Awaits: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er]

  1. Brilliant as ever. I particularly like your insight in the Sidenote. Though you will probably need to unpack it more for a simple man like me. Now I’m off to Peggy’s.

  2. Hi Peggy and Bill – thanks for dropping in. Glad it was encouraging. And P.S. Bill, the sidenote will be at least a few posts, come the new year, in a tentative series I’ve been plotting (and plodding) on strategic foresight and the futures of mission-shaped movement. “Sometime in Oh-Nine” that’s my motto …

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