I like to know things. I enjoy nothing more than another certificate or degree demonstrating that I have mastered a subject. It makes me feel useful, and ultimately safe. Knowing stuff, in my mind, makes me feel like I have some sort of power over my life—a safety railing against chaos.
As I have grown older, I am coming to understand that I don’t really know things—not like I thought I did at least. It is when this reality is shattered, when I am confronted with the unknowableness of the world, that I often step back and away from God.In those moments when I doubt that I can really know anything, I ask myself: How can I know if my understanding of God is correct?
When I have felt the most useless, the most helpless, and the most led astray, I have been tempted to walk away from faith. It’s a weird temptation because it is inward, instead of outward.
I’m sure Jesus’s disciples (perhaps Thomas) struggled with this very thing. How frustrating it must have been to think they had figured Jesus out only for Him to turn the tables (literally even). I imagine living with Jesus, so unknowable in many ways, was stressful. He didn’t behave in predictable ways. He was so unlike the rabbis of His time.
Jesus discouraged new followers instead of welcoming them.
Jesus demanded that his mighty works not be told to others.
Jesus demonstrated great power over the natural and physical world and then was beaten and killed with no resistance.
He even taught in a way that made no sense. He told stories, but He didn’t always explain them, stating that it was hidden for a reason.
On one occasion, he tells a large crowd, fixated on crowning Him, that they must drink His blood and eat His body.
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?”…“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:60-61; 66-69 John 6:60-61
Jesus was unfathomable and this frustrated those who wanted to understand Him, to check him off their lists of understood topics. Instead, what kept the disciples tied to Him was not their facts about Him, but the words of life He offered them.
The fact that these words are confusing and elusive makes them a treasure you have to seek, to work for—we have to dredge up the pearl of great treasure and throw our nets over and over again. In short, where our understanding fails, we rely on persistence. A faith, not of confidence, but of dogged determination. This seems to be the echoing refrain of Hebrews 11, the faith Hall of Fame.
The faithful are not ornamented with theological prowess but with fortitude. They follow a strange savior, a paradox, an enigma. To know Him and to love Him is a journey that may lead you to king’s courts but could also lead you to the leper’s colony. It might provide a life of ease and abundance or it could end with a martyr’s death.
It’s a complex journey, but it is the one I am on. There are times when the mystery makes me feel abandoned, angry even. But where am I to go? He has the words of life that set my heart aflame and give me hope when I give up on myself. I will go nowhere else. I cannot follow another. I do not follow with my eyes closed though.
It is not a blind faith as though we are just guessing. The man who sells all he has to buy the field that contains the treasure knows he has already found something valuable. The bleeding woman reaches out in faith to touch Jesus’s robe because she knows He could heal her. What makes it faith is the determination to not give up even when the crowd presses in, even when the sacrifice required seems too much.
The words of life are not easy words, but they are true words. They have the power to transform us in ways that we cannot imagine, if we can just hold on. I will never stop wanting to know everything, but I take comfort that ahead of us is a day when all that is hidden will be revealed. Until then, I cling to the words of life, and their speaker, giving me hope in the darkness.