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Ask, Search, Knock

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

These words are among the most quoted and familiar of everything Jesus said. They are also among the most misleading. If they were literally true, we could win the lottery by asking God; the 16th Century explorer, Ponce De Leon, would have found the Fountain of Youth; and we could knock on the door of the White House and be granted entry. There is a lot of evidence that Jesus is wrong.

Jesus seems to double-down on these thoughts, however, in the verses that follow. In verse 9, he asks what parent would give a stone to a child asking for bread. In verse 10, he asks what parent would give a snake to a child asking for a fish. In verse 11, he explains that if we know how to give good gifts to our children, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” In other words, what sort of parent would not try to give his or her children the good things they desire? That being the case, why would not God, our divine parent, do the same for us? As with much of what Jesus says, however, we must look deeper than the literal translation of his words in order to understand the life-giving spirit behind them. God is not Santa Claus, and the asking, searching, and knocking Jesus references are not a Christmas list.

If we learn anything from the life and teachings of Jesus it is that he manifested a perfect unity of body and spirit, a unity he invites us also to attain. If we picture our life on a continuum, stretching from completely materialistic on the far left to completely spiritual on the far right, we can imagine this inclusive unity in the middle of that space. Anything that pulls us to the far left draws us toward materialism and away from our spiritual nature. Likewise, anything that pulls us to the far right draws us toward spiritualism and away from our bodily nature. God gave us both a body and a spirit for a reason, and they are both good.

When we consider the continuum of our physical and spiritual nature, it goes against our created nature to be drawn overly much to either. The problem with focusing on either end to the exclusion of the other is that we become less and less satisfied, less and less at peace, the farther we go in either direction. Both ends are seductive, but neither without the other is healthy. We think, “If I only had a              , then I would be happy;” but we learn it is not true. The more stuff we have, the more we desire. Likewise, the more enlightening spiritual experiences we have, the more we desire. There is no satisfaction at either end. It is not that our physical and spiritual natures should not be sufficiently nourished – certainly they should. But they should not be fed to where they bloat out of proportion to the other.

The unsolvable human mystery is how, when, or even if God grants requests – providing what we ask for, revealing the object of our search, opening the door upon which we knock. There is evidence that God does grant our wishes, as I have seen people healed whose outlook was dismal. Alternatively, I have seen others waste away and die, in spite of countless, heartfelt prayers. I think the sweet spot in gaining what we wish for is in aligning our desires with God’s will, with what is. Only then will our petitions be granted as naturally as Jesus implies in these verses. Paradoxically, that requires us to change our desires. And yet, is that not the point, for us to be drawn closer to God in our humanity? It seems safe to assume God’s will is not for us to dwell overly much at either end of life’s spectrum, but to deeply experience both body and spirit as one.

Yes, we can and should ask, search, and knock, but we do so with the knowledge that God will not answer, reveal, or open that which is inconsistent with attaining unity within ourselves, with others, and with God. God granting an un-unifying wish would be akin to giving a child a snake when he or she asked for a fish.

This is the 29th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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