All the Answers

questionsAndAnswersI had lunch yesterday with someone who had all the answers.

I asked him the question someone had asked me recently, about the tension between science—which claims the earth is billions of years old—and the Bible—which suggests it is much, much younger than that. 

“Well, there are two kinds of revelation, right?” he asked.  “General revelation and special revelation.  General revelation is how God reveals himself through nature and special revelation is how he reveals himself through scripture.”

I nodded.  I still remembered this lecture from my days in seminary.

“In both cases it is God who is revealing himself,” he said, “and so if there is an apparent contradiction, it is a result of our misunderstanding, since God cannot contradict himself.”

And then he took a sip of iced tea.

“So,” I said, “if the scientists tell me a fossil is billions of years old and the Bible tells me probably not then either the scientists have misunderstood how old the fossil is or I have misunderstood what the Bible says, right?”

“Right.”

“So any apparent contradiction is a result of human error?”

“Exactly.”

Well, that made sense.  It made sense to me especially since I know how capable of error I am.  If I were a scientist I would almost certainly misread the data, estimating the age of that jar of pickles in the back of the fridge at something between 10,000 and 100,000 years old.  And I don’t claim 100% accuracy when interpreting the Bible, either. 

But that’s why I keep reading it.

I came away from lunch yesterday thinking that while, on one hand, it must be nice to have all the answers, on the other hand it’s nice to have all the questions, because the questions are what keep me digging around in Scripture, and having fascinating conversations over coffee, and saying “Wow!” when I look up at the night sky. 

When I see this quality in other people I sometimes describe it as “intellectual curiosity,” which doesn’t mean that everyone who asks questions is an intellectual, but that they have curious minds; they want to know why things are the way they are and how they got to be that way.  They might spend a week digging for artifacts in Ethiopia one summer and visit the Houston space center the next.  They tend to read a lot of books, and seek out new experiences, and ask a lot of questions.  Once they find an answer, of course, they come to the end of that particular quest, and if they should ever find all the answers then the journey of intellectual discovery would be over.

And how disappointing that would be.

It’s my questions that keep sending me to the pages of Scripture, digging down into the deep places, finding things I never dreamed of, and the good news is that I never come to the end of that particular journey.  God keeps speaking in new ways through those ancient words.  Sometimes I will drag something into the pulpit I haven’t even identified yet, but I’m so excited about the discovery I can’t wait.  I will ask my congregation, “Have you ever seen anything like this?  Does anyone know what this is?” 

I’m sure it’s not supposed to be like that.  I’m sure I’m supposed to have all the answers instead of all the questions.  But I like the questions. 

They keep me looking, and finding…

And saying “Wow!”

7 thoughts on “All the Answers

  1. Your comments on revelation are interesting on several different levels. One, there may be spectacular conclusions thru inductive reasoning, or deductive reasoning, based on how knowledge is processed. Two, there are revelations that lead to further conclusions, more or less amazing. Three, there are revelations that come to civilization after centuries of wonder and design.

    That brings me to the subject of things that happen in God’s time. We often have our own timeline that means right now, here, instantly seen. We spend precious time wondering the what, where, why of God’s plan. That time could be spent more wisely, less frantic.

    Some of the most wonderful revelations have come to me in that still, small voice. I learned to listen to Him in that way a long time ago. “Be still and know that I am God.” What a revelation! That gives me the peace that passes all understanding. Listening to God’s voice and reading God’s Word bring surprising opportunities for the precious things to be revealed to you.

  2. I have never heard that lecture on revelation, but it sounds like an interesting one. I’ve never fully known what I’d say in an argument between these two beliefs, but I usually think of C.S. Lewis’ quote:

    “Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time till you are beyond both.”

    Like a said in my last post, God seems to give us just enough to make us always want to know more. I really like this post because, to me, questions are always a good way to stay ‘alive’ in my faith.

    I love the section in the book “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell (yes I know a lot of people dislike him, and many have good arguments for it, but regardless of that, this section makes a great point) called “Questions” where he points out that questions, no matter how blasphemous or ignorant, are rooted in humility. Having questions is acknowledging that we are not God and we do not know all the answers. He points out how so many of the people in the Bible have questioned God about one thing or another, and it seems that God still always chooses them to be a major part of His work on Earth. His point is, “maybe that is who God is looking for ~ people who don’t just sit there and mindlessly accept whatever comes their way.” I think asking questions and seeking truth is at least one way to keep actively pursuing God, because He is the ultimate truth.

    Thanks for all the posts, I really enjoy reading what you and others have to say about these topics.

  3. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, God is less bothered by our questions than by our silence.

    As both a scientist and a student of God’s word, I have never recognized any conflict beteen the Bible and scientific discovery. The Bible does not answer scientific questions. That is not its purpose. And science does not answer our ethical, moral and spiritual questions. The two complement one another. If they stand in tension with one another, it is because we choose to infuse our questions with tension.

  4. I guess “Me, too” is my comment on the comment & the original blog!!! At 80, I find that I have more questions than ever, but looking for answers in unexpected places really keeps me going! And I am amazed at how many times God puts it right out there for us to stumble across in our own good time when we are ready! “Readiness” is a concept that is very meaningful to me, both personally and professionally, and I have found it a very useful principle. The longer I live, the more respect I have for “balance” and “perspective” as two remarkably useful notions — if I get very far away from either, I’m likely to find myself in deep trouble! Thanks for encouraging those of us who like questions, as well as answers. (It’s no fun Never to have an answer!)

  5. Great comments from all of the above!! How is it possible to continue to grow spiritually if we do not ask questions, “leaving no stone unturned”? I am currently reading a book called, THE SPIRITUAL BRAIN (A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul). Fascinating stuff! This book is full of questions and answers, and once I have finished this book, there will be more questions – that’s when I will head over to Barnes & Noble 🙂

    Thank you, Pastor Jim – love this blog – always thought provoking!!

  6. I love that I’m on vacation these last few days and have time to participate in these blogs.

    Everyone has so many interesting thoughts and perspectives.

    I like all: the original question and the responses; the many aspects of questioning; having faith & peace in God’s plan; seeking understanding; humble comfortable; comparing and contrasting without inhibiting tension. (Please do not be offended by my paraphrasing,.)

    God sure did make us humans interesting.

  7. Two quotes that have come up in conversation about this blog:

    “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” –John Dewey

    “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” — James Thurber

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