This morning I was having breakfast with a few dear friends at Chick-fil-a.
Have you ever heard a more delicious beginning to a story?
We were sitting there communing over spicy chicken biscuits, frosted coffee (it’s ice cream you can have for breakfast!), and other delicious cuisine when we began discussing something that we mutually decided that we didn’t fully understand. Apparently we must’ve not been too quiet because a man came up to our table and began to “explain” the topic that we had been wrestling with together. He was speaking very confidently and using large hand gestures to reinforce his point.
In that moment, we did what people do when someone gives them unwanted explanation. We waited until he was finished and nodded saying “that’s interesting, thanks.” As he began to walk away, he looked back and said, “I’m a minister to men.” I guess what he probably didn’t realize was that the four guys he was talking to are also identified as ministers by church title. Of course, all followers of Jesus are called to be ministers to others. Stating that he was a minister as he was walking away seemed to be his way of expressing that he was some sort of authority on the matter. It was frustrating to me, but I couldn’t really understand why in the moment.
Whether or not this man was correct in his explanation is beside the point. I guess I was bothered because sometimes we, especially those of us who are referred to as ministers, pastors, or teachers, can try and explain away the mystery of God.
Growing up in church is different than growing up outside the church and coming to faith later. For me, growing up in church was an exercise in knowing about God. I believed that I could know everything about God. I believed that there was someone out there in the world who knew more about God than anyone else, some sort of super Christian or God’s right hand man. In a way I believed that God delighted in people knowing his stats much like how I can recite the names and numbers of obscure former Tennessee Titans players. I looked at my dad and thought, “He probably knows more about God than most anyone else, after all, he has a couple degrees in the Bible. He carries around a Bible with an ancient language in it.” I looked at my youth minister and thought, “He must know a lot about God, he teaches us twice a week!”
So going to a Bible college myself to study the Bible seemed like a great way to fill my brain with knowledge about God. Surely that was pleasing to God. A few years in to my studies in college, I had a harsh, semi-painful realization. More study of the Bible was not answering all my questions, it was providing more difficult questions that were not as easy to answer. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God.
Looking back, I can identify this as a period of some faith “deconstruction.” Deconstruction is a word that I had never heard used as a healthy thing regarding faith. Wouldn’t you want your faith to be constantly constructing!? Always building taller and taller so that it may reach new heights? I think this period of deconstruction is natural and happens to all of us in one way or another. Luckily for me, I did then and still do find myself in communities that are affirming of my questions.
Think about all the times people asked questions of Jesus. Time and time again people come to Jesus asking questions. These questions have all kinds of motives, some seeking, some to trap him, and some rhetorical. Time and time again, Jesus does not answer these questions with a concrete answer that removes the mystery, but instead Jesus answers with another question, tells a story, or remains silent. Jesus was not a cookie cutter, fill-in-the-blank teacher. Jesus was a teacher who asked probing questions with which His followers wrestled.
As a community of Christ followers, we must give both ourselves and each other space to have questions and not have answers. Naturally this is terrifying because we are an anxious people who need to know everything all the time. That’s why Google is a thing, right? So we can just Google anything that we don’t know. And even more than in other realms of our life, our churches can seem like groups of people with whom we are uncomfortable expressing doubt or posing a tough question. Here’s the thing about that: people will wrestle with doubt and questions regardless, but will they do that in the context of a people who believe that God is big enough for our questions, or will they have to leave our faith communities to ask their questions?
We cannot place God in a box. I am a minister who works in a church, and guess what? I don’t have all the answers. I went and got that degree in “Theology and Ministry” and guess what? I am right there wrestling with everyone else.
So let’s try something. And I’ll try and do this as well. Next time someone expresses a question or doubt, let’s not be so quick to answer. Life following God is a mystery. Let’s spend some time in awe of the mystery of the Almighty God. I think we will find that there is a blessing in wrestling with God.
What is it with Chick-fil-a and people trying to explain deep mysteries of God with lackingly short and easy quips? I once overheard a man at Chick-fil-a attempt to explain the Holy Trinity to a 12-year-old using the metaphor of a buffalo sauce packet. Don’t get me wrong, I love buffalo sauce, but I think even buffalo sauce in all of its splendor pales in comparison to the Holy Trinity.