A Hard Answer
I make my living answering theological and apologetic questions. Most of the time, the questions are quite familiar, and often similar. As a result, I am able to answer without much difficulty. But every once in a while, I receive questions for which the answers are very slow in coming, or they do not come at all. These are difficult questions because they are often my own unanswered questions, and as I struggle to respond, I find myself far away from the surety of certainty and lost in the confusing landscape of doubt. Assurance is not visible on the horizon, and I'm left to wonder why God isn't more forthcoming to help guide me home with the answers.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus was also asked many questions. Some questions were asked to trap him in an answer, while other questions were asked by those who were genuinely seeking: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Of course, Jesus often answered questions by asking more questions, and didn't generally give easy answers. Remarkably, even Jesus had unanswered questions. Indeed, in the last few hours of his life, Jesus asked his own very difficult question for which he did not receive an immediate answer. Both Matthew and Mark's gospels record his heart-wrenching question: "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:33-34) Perhaps he only whispered this question from the cross; the passersby below thought he was calling for Elijah, the prophet. Perhaps, as some have suggested, he was simply quoting from the psalms.(1) Regardless, there is no record of a voice heard from heaven like the one heard at Jesus's baptism or at his Transfiguration. There is no declaration that he is God's beloved Son at the crucifixion—only silence and darkness. Jesus is left with his unanswered question.
As human beings who struggle for answers, we wonder if this wouldn't have been the best time for an answer. Wouldn't this be the optimal time for God's assurance? Why would Jesus die with an unanswered question still on his lips?
Jesus was part of a journey through unanswered questions undertaken by others as well. It is a journey where the promised answer is not always received or realized. The writer of Hebrews tells the story of those ancients who lived by faith—of Abel and Enoch, of Noah, and of Abraham and Sarah—who all died in faith without receiving the promises, having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Indeed, the apostle Paul tells us that as strangers and exiles we see "through a glass darkly" without the clarity or the surety of realized answers. As strangers and exiles, this life is not a journey towards certainty, nor is it always a journey guided by easy answers. It is a journey of trust through unknown territory and even to places of forsakenness.
Those of us who seek to journey with Jesus, often find ourselves with him at the cross of unanswered questions. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" is uttered from every mouth in dark times of discouragement and unfulfilled promises. We are often asked to stay with our unanswered questions where the light of illumination is far away and the promise of Resurrection is, as yet, an unanswered hope. Yet, with the ancients and with Jesus we can journey on without all of the answers.
Jesus, from the cross declared: "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit." From the cross, from the place of unanswered questions, Jesus commits his life to his Father, not a distant or silent God, but to the Father. It is to his Father, in the face of the unanswered questions and the forsakenness of the cross that he surrenders his life in trust.
Followers of Jesus are called to this place of paradox. It is a place of difficult questions that often go unanswered, and where our earnest desire for immediate answers must be sacrificed as we place our trust in the one who comes to us also as a loving Father. Indeed, the journey of faith is like the journey to Golgotha, for as we go forward in faith, "the questions get harder and harder because they not only stretch the mind they also call us to obedience. [For] the truth has not only to be appropriated, but also to be served."(2) The questions from our own crosses can be the opportunity for us to surrender to God, not because we stop seeking for answers, but because in their absence our faith has the opportunity to grow in loving obedience.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) Psalm 22:1 begins, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"
(2) Alan Jones, Soul Making (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1985), 121.