Thursday, October 15, 2009

When answers aren't what we need

Almost all of us at one time or another have gone to the Lord in prayer asking for guidance in some upcoming decision. Lord, is this the person I’m supposed to marry? Lord, should I move my family across the country and take this job? Lord, should I stay home and care for our parents or should we put them in the nursing home? And when I say we’re looking for guidance what I mean is that usually we’re looking for answers. We want God to tell us in ways that we can clearly understand “Yes” or “No.” Often, not always, but often, we leave such prayers as frustrated as when we started for God doesn’t show up in burning bushes nearly as often as we’d like (I can only remember one instance in all of history. And Moses hadn’t asked God anything. God just showed up.)

When I read the New Testament, I become even more frustrated. I realize that Jesus wasn’t that good at answering questions either. Half the time when somebody asks Jesus a question he asks them one right back (see Luke 10:25-26; 20:20-24). On many of the other occasions Jesus’ answer seems to go in a totally different direction. Someone asks him to settle a dispute and Jesus tells them to watch out for greed (Luke 12:13-21). Another asks Jesus about the cause of a tragedy and Jesus tells the questioner to repent (Luke 13:1-5). Throughout the pages of the Bible it becomes apparent that answering all of our questions isn’t one of God’s main goals in this life.

Does this make God cruel? That’s one way to interpret it. As a believer, though, I trust that God cares for me. If he doesn’t give me an answer to my questions, then there must be a reason (and a reason rooted in his love for me). I think of my own children. Do I always answer all of their questions? No. Some I don’t answer because I don’t know the answer – this obviously doesn’t apply to God who knows all things. Other times, though, I refuse to answer a question because I know refusing to give them an answer is for their benefit. Take for example, Sophie’s homework. She’s just in kindergarten, so I still know all the answers to what she’s working on. But does it help her if I just fill in the blanks for her? Of course, not. Part of growing wise is learning how to figure things out on her own. I don’t abandon her. I’m there to encourage, to provide her with resources, to make sure she has help when she needs it. But ultimately, for her to grow in wisdom, she must make decisions on her own.

Perhaps, this is one of the reasons God doesn't always answer our questions. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Sometimes that includes the answers to our questions, sometimes not. Because the truth is, God wants us to possess more than the answers to our questions. He wants us to be wise children who know how to discern his will and not simply copy down the answers from some heavenly cheat sheet. He wants us to grow up to be like him. While we might not like this arrangement, I hope we trust that it is for our ultimate good.

Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
For wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her – Proverbs 8:10-11.

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