by Jennifer Rothschild
Do you know what it feels like to be utterly satisfied with unanswered questions?
As a teenager I was satisfied I knew everything. As a college sophomore, not only did I know everything, but I also discovered my parents knew very little! As I ventured through my 20s and 30s, though, my satisfaction with my own omniscience began to wane. Now in my 40s, it seems I have more questions than answers. Yet here’s the kicker: I am more satisfied. Do you know what it feels like to be utterly satisfied in the mystery of faith? Are you content with unanswered questions, or do you feel that God has somehow failed you when a mystery of faith arises?
A Category 5 hurricane … a terrorist attack … two painful mysteries. Cancer, infertility, a car wreck, autism … all unanswered questions that may cause us to feel unsatisfied and wonder if God’s promises fell short. My unanswered question is blindness. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa as a teen, I’ve navigated the mystery of faith in the dark. I’ve grappled with the big questions — “Why hasn’t God healed? Why did He allow my blindness?”
When a human mystery, such as the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, remains unsolved, we’re intrigued; but when a divine mystery of suffering takes center stage, we feel dissatisfied. Mysteries leave us with questions, not answers. “Why won’t God fix the problem? Why didn’t He prevent that tragedy?”
When an infinite God allows unanswered questions, we as finite humans tend to attribute His silence (or our lack of understanding) to His failure to act. When God engages in mystery, we create a myth to explain our disappointment in His behavior. Our myths often resonate through statements like these: “God will heal me if I just have enough faith” or “God should deliver me because He is able.”
Myths set a deceitful standard. When God doesn’t meet that standard, we assume He failed. Myths cannot satisfy our need for answers because myths are illusions. They misrepresent God and deceive us.
The prophet Habakkuk must have struggled with the myths and mysteries of faith. He experienced questions concerning suffering. He sought answers from God, yet he never really received them. “How long, Lord, must I call for help and You do not listen, or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates” (Hab. 1:2-3, HCSB).
God doesn’t answer Habakkuk’s questions, yet Habakkuk is eventually satisfied. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (Hab. 3:17-19, HCSB).
We mistakenly believe that we cannot be satisfied when mysteries remain unsolved. But the prophet’s satisfaction wasn’t in the answer to his questions, but rather in his encounter with the God he questioned. Our satisfaction is not found in the answer we do or don’t receive from God either, but in the encounter we have with God because of the questions. Mysteries of faith don’t remain simply as opportunities to unscrew the inscrutable, but rather as opportunities to encounter the God of mystery — a chance to find satisfaction in an intimate relationship with Him. The encounter provides meaning in the mystery.
Like Habakkuk, we have more questions than answers. Yet we can have satisfaction. I live with that which I cannot understand and daily embrace the mystery of blindness. I find meaning in the mystery because I find God there. Like Habakkuk, the satisfaction I experience is in the encounter I have with God in the midst of the mystery.
How overwhelming it is to recognize that the failure we may have once assigned to God is really a failure of the myths we have unwittingly embraced. Don’t wrongly assume satisfaction and faith can only exist in understanding. It’s not so. “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand” (St. Augustine on the Gospel of St. John XXIX).To embrace the mystery of faith frees us to relax in the unknown, to revel in the sovereignty of God. It grants us the security of trusting God’s wisdom more than our myths. Only then do we experience true satisfaction.
To embrace the mystery of faith frees us to relax in the unknown, to revel in the sovereignty of God.
God is mysterious. We cannot demand He conform to our image; we must conform to His. Seek Him more than we seek answers. Embrace that which we don’t understand, and trust when we can’t explain. As we reject the myths we created to explain an unexplainable God, we begin to embrace the mystery of His sovereignty. Answers never satisfy; only God satisfies. If you are in the midst of a painful mystery, stop seeking answers — seek God. He is waiting to satisfy you.
This article originally appeared in the May, 2008 issue of HomeLife. Subscribe