I’ve been thinking a lot about faith in the context of questions lately.
In the class that I am taking on the Hebrew Bible, we have reached the Prophets and the time of the end of the Davidic kingdom and the Babylonian exile for Judah. On Friday, we took a look at how these events caused shifts in the way that the Israelites thought of God and of their relationship to God. How do they worship God when they are no longer in the Promised Land? When there is no longer a temple? What does it mean to be the people of God when in exile?
We also explored how true monotheism begins to appear during this time as the Israelites struggled to make sense of what current events meant about God. As the idea of monotheism gained hold, new questions began to be asked. If there is only one God, where does evil come from? This is not a problem to be solved as long as there is the possibility of other lesser gods who can be blamed for the existence of evil.
It is during this time that Judaism was formed as something related to but distinct from the religion of the Israelites that had come before. Monotheism. Synagogues. Keeping the Torah in a foreign land. All of these things were new developments and new questions.
Last night I attended an Advent service that used scripture readings, music, a dramatic monologue, artwork, and more to explore the mystery of this season. At the start of the night, we were encouraged to let go of needing to know the answers and instead be willing to sit with the questions, with this mystery that once again changed all of the questions to be asked.
It was a lovely and evocative way to enter the Advent season, and as I drove home afterwards, I found myself captured by the idea of faith being more about sitting with the questions than holding onto answers.
I’ve always thought of different faith traditions as offering different answers to the Big Questions of life—the meaning of life, who God is, how we should then live. But I began to wonder as I drove home last night whether the bigger difference is that each faith tradition approaches these Big Questions through the lens of a different mystery and a different set of smaller questions.
Just like the idea of monotheism answered questions for the Israelites about how and why their kingdom was defeated and taken into exile while at the same time raising new questions about how to explain the existence of evil in the monotheistic world, our “answers” to questions about God always lead to new questions. And the small questions and the lenses of mystery through which we view the Big Questions changes our view entirely because we are focused on different aspects of the Mystery that is God.
There is great comfort for this recovering fundamentalist to be given permission to sit with the questions and the mystery without needing to have answers. It is refreshing to think that the questions themselves are only a lens through which faith may view Mystery. There is freedom in not needing to know all the answers because I don’t know all the answers. I’m not sure I know any of the answers for that matter.
But I do know how to ask questions, and I’m learning to sit with those questions without needing an answer. Faith as a question mark is something I can live with.
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