Article by Cameron Semmens.
Sure, Jesus is The Answer – but I just asked if there was any Vegemite!
We all know that Jesus is The Answer. But now we’ve left the safety of Sunday School, many of us have found ourselves asking questions about life and faith that are a bit more complex than they used to be. It can make us wonder, if Jesus is the answer – then am I asking the wrong questions?
Yet right or wrong, the questions keep on coming.
As humans, we often seek nice, clear, black and white answers – it makes us feel secure and confident. But when childhood is replaced with a grown up world and its grown up dilemmas, we find there are some areas of life and faith where the answers aren’t clear cut.
Thankfully, I think Jesus acknowledges this in the very style and substance of his life and words. Jesus didn’t write the ultimate ‘self-help’ book: How to Follow God in Three Simple Steps. He didn’t write evangelistic tracts. He didn’t leave us text books. Instead he mostly lived out, rather than spelled out, his faith. And when he did use words, he told stories. Even in these parables, the meanings weren’t always immediately clear. He wanted to provoke genuine engagement with the issues and with God, not brief head-nodding moments of box-ticking.
The Rev Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, captures some real truth when he says: “Jesus gave no ready answer to complex human dilemmas. In fact, he did the reverse… Jesus reminds us that we are at our most dangerous when we think we have the answers. Instead his extreme teaching raises a new moral sensitivity that leads us to listen to others and to God.”
I have come to understand that there are many mysteries inherent within the Christian faith. That’s why it’s called faith, not fact. And thankfully, if God is really God, then he is far more than our petty human brains can ever comprehend. After all, if God wasn’t partially incomprehensible – He wouldn’t be God at all.
So I’d like to raise a glass to the asking of good questions.
One of the reasons I am a poet is because I find it more natural to ask questions than to give answers. I believe we must grill, probe, interrogate, wonder, marvel and hypothesize. And that the road to certainty is cobblestoned of question marks. But in this I’m not advocating the reckless surrendering to blind uncertainty – there is, after all, a difference between questioning to undermine and questioning to understand.
Instead, we should take a leaf out of the book of childhood again. Children learn by asking endless questions, and learning shouldn’t end with childhood.
Let us never reach an age or a stage of life when we decide, ‘This is how the world is’ or worse, ‘This is what God is like.’ Our knowledge of the world, and especially God, should never be locked in – frozen – by our own life experiences or by an unexamined faith in the concrete of conservatism. For if they remain concrete and unexamined, these beliefs become thin, worn and fragile. Life will always challenge what we believe it to be, and God will certainly not always behave as we expect Him to.
Our perception of God, our world, ourselves and our place in it must be continually re-evaluated for them to grow and mature.
This can be confronting. Particularly for the church, which has traditionally and historically been the dispenser of answers. It’s only natural we have a sense of trepidation when faced with tough questions of faith, or doubt. We all have a natural fear of the unknown – and as Christians, we carve faith out of the unprovable.
As it says in Timothy, ‘Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great…’
As long as we’re living with this mystery, some questions will not go away. In fact, as long as our world and our society keeps changing, there are some questions that we’ll need to keep asking. At times though, the answers will be so vast and complex that one question is simply not big enough to ask them. And we must ultimately concede that there are some questions that will never be answered. Not in this life at least.
And that’s where, I believe, poetry can play it’s part. Capturing those wispy, nebulous questions that duck and weave, and refuse to be certainties. Thus, I’ll leave you with a poem – about learning to live with the many mysteries of life and of God. It’s not always easy, but I truly believe that where answers end, there is mystery. And God can be found in mystery.
I’ve always had questions in me – big questions.
They stomp around my chest – a herd of elephants.
Not full-sized elephants, these elephants are little,
but they’re still heavy, and a bit scary.
Sometime in my late teens they broke out.
Prised my rib cage open,
barged their way out between my bent-back bones.
And off they went out into the big wide world:
grazing philosophical savannas,
exploring theological jungles,
and crashing through the endless mass-media scrub.
I never bent my ribs back into place.
Friends told me to get surgery,
to stitch up the gaping wound in my chest.
But it wasn’t a wound to me – it was an opening.
And then, slowly, they started to come home.
Not all of them, some found what they wanted out there,
it was mostly the big elephants that came back:
the muddied ones, the untameable ones,
the ones in the room that no-one mentions –
thump by thump they lumbered back in through my aching chest.
These days, they come and they go,
sometimes with gentle pushes,
other times with crushing shoves.
They’re noticeably active during dark, dark nights
and long seasons of dryness.
I’ve found the only way to live with elephants
blundering around my heart is to give them space:
let them go if they need to,
let them sit if they have to.
I used to hear the beat of fear in their thumping and trumpeting
but now, I hear the melody of curiosity,
now, their insistent stomping and stamping
is an anthem to the country of my being.
Cameron Semmens is a poet and performer. He brought his unique brand of entertainment and insight to LifeWell Conference.
See more of Cameron Semmens at www.webcameron.com
This article was first published in the August 2009 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.