Difficult Questions, Unexpected Answers
People, by nature, are inquisitive. There are many unanswered dilemmas that we want to know the outcome. We want answers. We want them now! But we want them to meet our expectations. Look at how we view the upcoming election. We may ask the question, “Who will be the next president?” Many of us may already have a pre-determined way that we feel that question should be answered. We want our own candidate elected and may be disappointed if the answer doesn’t match our expectations. We want answers. But, we don’t want answers contrary to our views. We want answers that match our preconceived notions.
Questions are not always easy. Where some questions may have simple to understand black-and-white answers, many more have answers in the shades of gray. The simplest of questions often have hidden complexities that may not always be apparent.
Difficult questions often have difficult answers. In the Gospel message that I read a moment ago, Jesus was challenged with an interesting dilemma. The Pharisees and the Herodians tried to catch Jesus in a word of treason against either the Roman Empire, or the Jewish people. They hoped that He would take one of two sides therefore placing Himself on the bad side of someone. On the one hand, He could speak out against the paying of taxes which would amount to an act of treason against Rome and likely result in His execution. On the other hand, He could support the paying of taxes and put him on the bad side of the Jewish separatists and thereby classify Himself as a traitor to the Jewish people. Either way, His answer would take Him out of their hair. This unlikely pairing of the Pharisees and the Herodians was to unite these rivals so that they could both address the “Jesus Question.” All He had to do was say that paying taxes was either good, or bad. They were looking for a simple answer to a difficult question. Instead, Jesus showed them the face on the coin and let them answer their own question. What a way to provide an answer.
Often, we have our own difficult questions. We look to God for answers, and sometimes we don’t hear what we’re expecting. Sometimes, we’re not ready for the answer. Other times, we might receive the answer, but we don’t like the result. But, the most destructive questions are those that really don’t have an answer. Tonight, I’d like to look at how we question God and how we relate to the answers we receive.
Sometimes, we’re not yet ready to bear the answer.
Sometimes, our questions have no desirable answers.
Sometimes, we just don’t like the answers we receive.
Answers We’re Not Ready to Hear
Children are great examples of people not ready to know all the answers. They’re often the most interested in learning more, and they ask some of the toughest questions too. Toddlers are known to ask why, why, why to the point that others around them finally give up and answer, “just because.”
Why is the sky blue.
Because the sky reflects light from the oceans.
Why is it blue though.
I don’t know, maybe the water is blue.
But some water is green, why isn’t the sky green.
I guess there’s more blue water than green.
But I never see a green sky, why isn’t the sky green some times. Why is it always blue.
I don’t know. Just because.
What sounds like such simple questions from a young mind have the tendency to turn into debates on why physics validates electron –hole theory, how gravity affects planetary rotation, or how our senses interact with a physical world. There’s no way we can have all the answers or understand all the issues that impact even the simple questions. I don’t know why the sky is blue instead of green.
In the end, it really doesn’t satisfy their inquisitive minds. They want to know more, and as they find out more, they want to know more than that. They question everything around them and challenge almost every assumption. This is a good thing for young minds, but they’re not ready to know everything.
Are children of every age ready to discuss the implications of living together before marriage? How about a three year old debating the usefulness of the death penalty or a pre-teen arguing over the requirements of a standing military in a nation at peace? Or how about discussing how a five year old girl can use sex to her benefit in a corporate environment? These questions are inappropriate for many adults, let alone children.
Just like children are not always ready to hear the answers to some of the simplest questions, we too are children in God’s eyes. We’re not necessarily ready for all of the answers to all of our questions. Sometimes, we need to trust that God will provide the answers when the time is right.
Questions Without Answers
Past the questions, we may not be ready for some questions that have no real answers. It may look like a question, it may even sound like a question, but sometimes it’s really a pointed statement or an attempt to throw someone off balance. Sometimes people want to argue or test God instead of diving toward the truth. That’s what we see in the Gospel message today.
How would you answer these questions:
You’re wife asks “Do I look fat in this outfit?”
How about you’re neighbor asking “Have you stopped beating your kids yet?”
Or your child asking you anything, and follows it up with “But you promised!”
Are there really any good answers to these types of questions? No matter what answer you come up with, you’re probably wrong.
This type of question is exactly what Jesus was faced with. He was given a question that was expected to have no answer. He was expected to be wrong regardless of how he answered.
Similarly to the Pharisees and the Herodians, we often pose questions to God that we feel can’t have a right answer either. Why did this bad thing happen? Why am I in this bad situation today? Why me Lord? We’ve probably all wondered something similar at sometime or another.
Sometimes these are legitimate questions. But sometimes, we already know the answer to our question and God can’t answer in a way that will ever satisfy us. That’s an attitude problem that we need to deal with. It’s not an issue of the answer, but the nature of the question. If we really want to have the answer, we’ll be content with the result, even if it’s contrary to our preconceived notions. It’s about improving our attitude first, and our situation second. Just because we feel a question should be answered a certain way, doesn’t make another answer wrong.
Attitude can be changed simply by humbly coming to God, ready to receive what He offers, even if it’s not the answer we expected.
The story is told of an old man who lived on a farm in the mountains of eastern Kentucky with his young grandson. Each morning, Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading from his old worn-out Bible. His grandson who wanted to be just like him tried to imitate him in any way he could.
One day the grandson asked, "Papa, I try to read the Bible just like you but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading the Bible do?"
The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and said, "Take this coal basket down to the river and bring back a basket of water."
The boy did as he was told, even though all the water leaked out before he could get back to the house.
The grandfather laughed and said, "You’ll have to move a little faster next time," and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again.
This time the boy ran faster, but again the basket was empty before he returned home. Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a basket, and he went to get a bucket instead.
The old man said, "I don’t want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water. You can do this. You’re just not trying hard enough," and he went out the door to watch the boy try again.
At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got far at all. The boy scooped the water and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty. Out of breath, he said, "See Papa, it’s useless!"
"So you think it is useless?" The old man said, "Look at the basket." The boy looked at the basket, and for the first time he realized that the basket looked different. Instead of a dirty old coal basket, it was clean.
"Son, that’s what happens when you read the Bible. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, it will change you from the inside out.
That is the work of God in our lives. To change us from the inside out and to slowly transform us into the image of His son. (“Coal Basket Bible”, http://www.sermonillustrationlibrary.org/illustration31)
Reading scripture is only one way we can change our attitude. We can improve from the inside out through prayer, fasting, worship, confession, communion and even singing. In this way, we’re slowly turning another piece of our time and ourselves over to Him. The works we perform on the outside have an effect on the inside as well. It may happen slowly, so slowly that we don’t even notice it. But, like the coal basket, we become clean on the outside as God cleans us on the inside.
Clean hearts lean to more pure attitudes. We then can ask questions that have real answers rather than posing pointed debates intended to have no result. Our attitude changes our pointed questions into legitimate seeking of knowledge. Our legitimate questions bring us closer to the heart of God. Our attitude determines how we address our relationship with God.
What can we learn from the Pharisees and Herodians questions?
In God’s eyes, we are the inquisitive children. Sometimes the questions are simple. Sometimes they’re complex. Sometimes we like the answers, and sometimes we avoid what we don’t want to hear. Sometimes we’re ready to hear the truth and move on with the knowledge. Other times we’re like children, unable to understand or bear the reality that exists.
It’s probably one of the hardest things we can do, once in a while, we may need to drop how we think situations should be resolved, and let God figure it out for us. Ultimately, our attitude towards our relationship with God determines how we ask questions. Just like our relationships with family and friends are dictated by our relationships with them, the same is true with God.
Come closer to God. He’s waiting for you. Ask the answerable questions and He’ll provide the answers. But, be patient, the answers come in His time with His wisdom.