If you want everything in black and white…if you want all the answers to all your questions with no ambiguity…you’re probably in the wrong church. Here…we tend to think the questions are important…the wrestling is important. Here…we acknowledge that we struggle with the way things are in this world…not so much why the sky is blue…but
Why is there so much evil? Why is there so much injustice?
Why are some people dying from lack of food and clean water while others have excess to waste?
Why do you allow innocent children to be abused?
Why is there so much pain and suffering? So much mental illness?
Why is life so hard?
Any of you ever ask those questions?
You’re not alone….Scripture is full of those questions. When you read the Psalms — over and over they ask, Where are you, God? Why are you so far away?
The book of Habakkuk, the prophet, begins — O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
And, of course, the entire book of Job is Job questioning God — questioning the unfairness and injustice of his suffering.
I’m always amazed at people who see the Bible as an “answer book”. Because it seems far more like a book of questions…a book lifting up all the questions we humans struggle with in the midst of our lives as we search for God…as we seek understanding. And rather than giving us answers…we find that in the pages of our Bible, again and again…God embraces the questions. It’s kind of like God says — yep…that’s right! You don’t have all the answers and you never will. But you know what? You all get to keep being two years old and keep asking “Why”..and that’s your job. That’s how you’ll learn. And that’s how you get closer to me. At the end of the book of Job, God tells Job that he is right in questioning…in struggling with God. And God chastises Job’s friends who have all the “answers”… because they had no right to speak for God …and they were arrogant and wrong in pronouncing God’s judgment on Job.
You see — Struggling with God, questioning God isn’t wrong. Far from it…it’s what faith is all about. I don’t know if you noticed, but the story Millie read about Jacob …is how Israel got its name. Alone in the darkness, God meets Jacob…and in their wrestling, Jacob is injured …but also blessed. And the blessing comes with a name… Israel… which simply means “Struggling” — ‘Wrestling”. That’s how God’s chosen people are named. I’m struck by the contrast with Islam…which means “Submission”. The identity of Muslims is rooted in submission to God’s will…to the law…to the Koran. Whereas the identity of the Jewish faith is rooted in questioning and argument, disagreements and struggles. Never having all the answers. There is a long standing adage that if you have three rabbis in a room, they will give you four different interpretations of Scripture.
Jesus was Jewish…he knew it was okay to not have all the answers. He knew that it was okay to grope for God in the darkness…to ask the hard questions.. And he also knew that sometimes, it will hurt. It isn’t easy to look at the pain in the world…or in our lives. It puts our hip out of socket…or rather, our heart. But here’s the thing….that’s where God meets us. And that is the blessing. God is with us in the struggle…God hears us …. and God loves us.
And that’s the heart of it. The heart of God…the heart of our faith and the only “answer” we get. Love.
1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings. You know…cuz it’s all about love and all that mushy stuff, right? But Paul wasn’t talking about romantic love and he certainly didn’t have weddings in mind…he actually thought marriage was overrated. No…what Paul was talking about was the love of God that holds us together when we’re falling apart….when we all have more questions than answers and we don’t understand why things are the way they are. Paul was talking about the fact that we are all bumbling along in the dark…not understanding fully, not seeing clearly…and the only light we have to hang on to is love — God’s love. The kind of love God has for us — patient and kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love that does not insist on its own way; and isn’t irritable or resentful; and doesn’t rejoice when bad things happen. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What a thing…to be loved by God in that way. God is patient and kind….as we struggle and question and try to figure things out. God is not irritable and certainly doesn’t rejoice when we are hurting. God does not even insist on God’s own way….we have a voice…we get to ask questions…to wonder…to wrestle. And we don’t have to have all the answers…on who is right and who is wrong. On why the world is the way it is. But we are loved. And that is all that matters.
Some of you remember Deb Allen….she used to be the pastor at the UCC church in town. She asked once in a sermon…when you get to heaven…what are you hoping Jesus will say when you see him? What words will be the fulfillment of all your hopes? Are you hoping for a slap on the back and assurance that “You were right!” ? Or are you hoping that Jesus will run to meet you, gather you in his arms and say “I love you!” For generations, the church has all too often acted like certainty and being “right” were the goals of faith. And they have treated everyone who didn’t have it “right” abominably. Saying awful things about them. Excommunicating them. Despising them. Sometimes killing them. I was at Sandpoint Pride with my kids yesterday…and there were a few of those Christians around who were so certain about how right they were and were yelling through microphones about how disgusted God was with the beautiful people gathered. But you know what? Faith is not about certainty. In fact, faith is the opposite of certainty. People assume that doubt is the opposite of faith…but that’s not true. Doubt is simply one facet of faith…felt by all those who question and wonder and struggle….even the prophets. Even the disciples. Even Mother Teresa. No, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt…the opposite of faith is certainty. When you have all the answers…there’s no room for faith. No room for grace. Faith is not having all the answers….and wrestling with God anyway. And in the midst of it all… trusting that God is love. That’s the heart of it. Love. So whatever we do…must be love.
Some churches will tell you how to vote, and who to marry, and what you should look like and act like and exactly what you should believe. It’s very black and white. Here…we live with the questions….and we get that at our very best, we’re still stumbling in the dark most of the time…because God is God and we are not. So sometimes we’ll get it wrong. But we hope..that someday…in eternity…we will understand it all. We will see what love looks like in all its fullness. That’s what Paul hoped. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. But for now…we wrestle…and we are blessed because of it. Because God is here. With us. And God is love. Amen.