The Value of Questions
…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet
Questions are important. I shared this quote recently as part of a conversation about questions. The questions we hold, ask, and wonder about really define who we are. What questions? Questions like: Am I happy? Am I doing okay? What am I here for? What can I do to make that right? Where do I go to find out? Is there a better way to do this? These sorts of questions and plenty more really identify who we are, shape who we are, and guide us as we move through our lives. It's interesting, given how important questions are, that all through school were tested on the answers. We're never taught how to be comfortable with the questions. And yet life doesn't give us immediate, simple answers to most of the questions we face does it? Our questions motivate us to learn, grow, and become who we want to be.
As part of our spiritual journey, there are also ALWAYS questions. Perhaps there more than anywhere else it is important that we live the questions and let them inform our choices. Two questions which are important for those who identify as Christians, an also for those who are curious about Christianity, are: “Who is this Jesus?” and “Who do you say I am?” One is a question we ask ourselves. The other is a question that Jesus asked his disciples. Both lend depth and power to our spiritual journey. They keep us open and curious as we go.
We've been exploring the question “Who is this Jesus?” over the past few weeks in church. We've heard what others said about Jesus, what God said about Jesus, what Jesus said about Jesus, and we discovered different events that said a lot more about Jesus then perhaps there were words for. We were encouraged to embrace wonder and hold the questions as we go. “Who is this Jesus?” is a question that is foundational to our spiritual walk. It is a question we live much in the way that Rilke talks about. We live it because we change, then our lives change the answers, the answers change our understanding, and it all takes us back around to the question. “Who is this Jesus?” helps us relate more fully to the one we seek to follow. We need to give ourselves permission to ask it, ask it, and ask it again. We need to read scriptures, hear sermons, and have conversations with that question in our mind. We need to look back over our lives and ahead into our future with that question in mind. Who we think Jesus is, who we have experienced Jesus to be in our lives makes us who we are as Christians and it is a constantly unfolding understanding.
Our own personal understanding or experience of Jesus is what defines how we decide to live our faith. It is what drives us. This is the example we seek to follow. We won't get it right. We won't do it perfectly. That's okay. It is curiosity about Jesus that should be the mark of those who follow him. Why? Because we can never fully know Jesus. All we can do is seek some knowledge of him. And we're promised that when we seek we will find. Just as Rilke suggested, we will live our way into the answers. This is what relationship is like. Do you ever think you know your partner completely? Do you ever think you know your children completely? Or your parents? Your friends? Do people stay the same? No! A relationship is a living thing. Curiosity about and interest in the other person is what makes for a dynamic, powerful, and ongoing experience. This is the kind of relationship we are to have with Jesus.
Having asked the question, having lived our way into an answer, and then asking the question again is the mark of what it is to live in relationship with Christ. But there is more. Beyond our own relationship with Jesus and how it impacts the way we live is the question of how we speak that to others. This is that question that Jesus asked his disciples “who do you say that I am?” Each one of us, every single one of us, has a different answer to that. We each have a different experience of Jesus, we each have a different understanding of God, we each have a different path that we’re on, and they are ALL valid. This is the beauty of living in community with other people of faith. As we each speak our understanding of God, of Jesus, of the Spirit at work in our lives we find a truth in the middle that is authentic and powerful and beautiful. We don't often talk about our experience of Jesus, do we? We are afraid of saying the wrong thing, offending someone, or looking stupid. We don't think we'll have the right words, we never were taught how, and so we choose to stay in silence. Yet the questions themselves are worth sharing … don’t you see?
In the passage in Mark where Jesus asks the question “who do you say I am?” we find out that it's not up to us to know. Peter answered him, Jesus celebrated the answer and went on to say that Peter’s words came not from flesh and blood but from God. We don’t need to have the words, to know the right way to do it, or how people will respond. That's up to God at work in our lives through the Spirit. All we have to do is say what we know or even what we don’t know. All we have to do is speak what's important to us and why it is. That too is part of living our way into the answers. The sacred risk of just speaking our Truth without apology or hesitation goes a long way to helping others find their way to their own understanding an experience of God. Or maybe simply to the questions they need to ask. Either way, they're on their way and we have opened the door.
Let your spiritual journey be about the questions. Give yourself permission NOT to know. Start from what you DON’T know and see where that takes you. There is no end, there is no test, there is just the face of the One who loves you more than you can imagine smiling as he asks you “who do YOU say I am?” Lean into it. It will be okay.