Questions vs Answers, Part 2

Questions vs Answers, Part 2

“You insist on explaining everything as if the whole world were composed of things that can be explained…Has it ever occurred to you that only a few things in this world can be explained your way?” Don Juan Matus[1]

Our desire for clear-cut answers to deep and difficult questions, and our belief that such answers can be expressed in concise, unambiguous language combine to make many of us fall for charlatans and accept answers that fall far short of the truths we seek. To illustrate the point, consider a common answer given to questions about the nature of God: God is love, and the more personal extension of that answer: God loves and cares for us. While I do not disagree with either answer, at least on a certain level, I must say “It depends…” when asked if I believe that God is love or that God loves and cares for us. The answer cannot be so easily or quickly concluded, at least not in words.

The difficulty arises because of the many definitions, manifestations, and understandings of what is and is not love, let alone what is and is not God. If by saying that God is love we mean that God will never allow bad things to happen to us, then anyone with a modicum of life experience will conclude that God most certainly is not love. If that person continues to believe that God is love and that God will never allow bad things to happen to believers, then to reconcile the conflict between their belief and the reality they must construct an alternate reality to resolve the conflict. A common form of such reconciliation is to assume we are sinful creatures and that bad things happen to us because of our sin. In other words, God punishes us for our sin by allowing bad things to happen to us. We confuse bad things with laws of cause and effect. The qualifier for this alternative reality is this: God will not allow bad things to happen to me if I do not sin. Of course, bad things often happen with no discernable reason.

This alternate reality must be further modified when bad things happen to innocent victims – childhood cancer, sober victims of drunken drivers, a lung cancer diagnosis for one who has never smoked. Where is the sin in cases like these? Some say bad things happen to good people because of the sins of their predecessors, which has some scriptural backing, but is unhelpful and takes us even deeper into the rabbit hole of the sin conundrum. These are the sorts of explanations we get when we seek quick, concise, and easy answers. It is not that we should automatically reject these types of answers as much as that they should not stop our search for deeper, more complete explanations.

When we proclaim God is love in answer to questions about God’s nature, we must look deeper than our daily circumstances to see how that can be true. There is daily evidence that God does not love us in a way that prevents unpleasant and unfortunate things from happening to us. Teacher and author James Finley responds to this sort of proclamation by pointing out that God does not protect us from anything but sustains us in all things. In other words, God’s love is not about preventing suffering but is about responding during and after suffering occurs. There is also daily evidence that bad things often lead to good things over time. Understanding how God loves us is a process that unfolds over time, and that understanding does not come in words but in our experience of that faithful, sustaining love that gradually births new life from today’s difficulties. We easily mistake the labor pains of our daily experiences for permanent destinations instead of recognizing them as temporary and necessary parts of the birthing process.

Another confounding issue with most quick and easy answers is the assumption that life begins at earthly birth and ends with earthly death. If spirituality is about anything, it is about acknowledging that life is infinitely more than the limited time we consciously inhabit our earthly bodies. Just as preparations for a nice dinner begin hours and days before the meal, and just as planning for intricate construction projects begins years before ground is broken, so our lives are filled with overlapping cycles of planning, construction, and utilization. Some cycles take hours, some years, and some cycles almost certainly require many lifetimes. Our lives are spent in various stages of transition.

Is God is love a good answer to questions about the nature of God? Well, that depends on the timeline we allow for God’s love to manifest. It also depends on what we consider bad.

This is the 33rd in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality: Conversations with Don Juan, Washington Square Press, 1971, p. 126.

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