Questions I Would Like to Ask God
I have often referenced the quote by the talk-show host Larry King, in his response to a particular question: "If you could select any one person across all of history to interview, who would it be?" Mr. King’s answer was that he would like to interview Jesus Christ. When the questioner followed with, "And what would you like to ask Him?" King replied, "I would like to ask him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me."
I am quite intrigued by that comment and am convinced that it was not an off-the-cuff remark, but one he had thought through before. The first time I requested permission through a common friend to use this quote of his, he sent word saying, "And tell him I was not being facetious." I believe him. Who would not like to interview Jesus Christ? It is not possible to live without asking questions—and what better source for the answers than the one who claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life? If one could only be face to face with Him from whom life comes, whom to know means Truth and to follow means direction, how delightful would be those moments when the most confounding questions of life are raised. We are not surprised when we read in the Gospel of Luke that the men who walked on the Emmaus Road, though unaware that they were walking with the risen Christ, said that their hearts burned within them as He opened up the past, the present and the future to them. When they realized who He was, a light for all of history had been turned on.
And yet questions abound and darken the journey of life, somewhat. From the moment we can speak conversationally the most common word is "Why?" As the years go by some fundamental queries remain, only becoming more interwoven with experience and dressed up with intellect. One of the hazards of my life is to respond to questions from various sources—some straining the intellect, others tugging at the heart. I have reminded myself over the years to never forget that behind every question is a questioner and behind every questioner is a network of assumptions, hurts, struggles and often prejudices. What is more, there is not only the context of the questioner to consider, there is also the constraint of the way the question has been framed. I have not seen the movie Titanic. From all accounts, it is winning accolades for its cinematography and its story-line. What has caught my attention, though, is a common response I have heard from all who have shared their reactions to the movie with me. "That scene at the end," filled with emotion, they utter,"with bodies floating in the water is almost unbearable." One commented that it is easy to see how the skeptic is buttressed in his or her unbelief when in the throes of such unexplainable tragedy.
Of course the viewer is compelled to ponder the "why." But at the same time, at moments like those it is of paramount importance to remember the danger of deduction when the visual and the imaginative combine with riveting force to circumscribe the problem and reduce it to a single frame of reference. It is for this very reason the renowned communications writer Marshall McLuhan pointed out that the medium is both the message and the massage. The message is "framed," even manipulated by the medium and the receiver is massaged and tenderized into receptivity. One may as well ask a drunk with diminished sensitivities if he can differentiate between the brands of alcohol as reason logically with one consumed by the visual. Like El Niño and our recent weather patterns, God is blamed for everything aberrant.
The truth is that there are answers to these questions. They are not easy answers, I might add, but we can be absolutely sure of two things. First, issues of such complexity cannot be settled on a single storyline of a tragedy or triumph, especially when it is restricted to the eye. Second, even had every passenger on the Titanic been rescued, one is forced to ask whether it would have proved the existence of God to the skeptic. What is far more likely is that human ingenuity and courage would have won the recognition. How many miraculous interventions does it take to make a believer? The ramifications are too vast to address here.
Certainly, this of all enigmas, the reality of suffering, is a constant refrain from the questioner struggling with God’s existence. (I might add parenthetically that I have addressed the issue in a principal chapter of Cries of the Heart *.) But there are other questions that we all ponder and the Scripture writers are not unaware of them. Many, they themselves wrestled with as they sought the mind of God. Life itself can become one long series of questions, from the sublime to the absurd. I have always been humored by the line in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye, the lead-character, in one of his memorable songs intones respectfully of the Maker, "Would it foil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?" When college education storms the family bank account, Tevye’s question invades the mind. From the stubbing of a toe to the intricacies of worldwide economic disparities, questions abound. There was more than humor intended when C.S. Lewis said, "If only this toothache would go away, I could write another chapter on the problem of pain."
But I must confess that after years of dealing with these challenges I have only been pointed more and more in the direction of God Himself. The conclusion is hard to evade that ultimately the intellect is a smoke-screen for the moral or spiritual. I have marveled at those who reject the answers of God and who instead espouse the most irrational explanations in their place. These larger issues, therefore, I have settled a long time ago. But behind them loom some gnawing, frustrating questions that someday I would like to ask God. May I present just two of them for now?
I have wondered, for example, how it is possible for the abundance of evidence for God’s existence to still be completely dismissed by intelligent and thoughtful people. Bertrand Russell, for example, when asked what he would say to God should he meet Him face to face after death, replied, "I’ll say, you did not give me enough evidence." Was that an honest conviction of his? Was that what he really thought? Did he truly believe that intelligent life ultimately emerged from nothing? How do reasonable people actually conclude that we are the product of the random collocation of atoms? Is it not becoming more obvious all the time that atheistic evolution, which is driven clearly by a naturalistic philosophy, is in intellectual disarray? The recent spate of books that have called the bluff of many determined to remain committed to this theory has inflicted mortal wounds to Darwinism. Reason magazine in its July 1997 issue pointed out that there is a sophisticated lineup of thinkers now questioning Darwinism.
Take, for example, professor Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box. Behe is Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I cannot help but smile when I think of a professor from Bethlehem addressing the issue of origins— albeit a different Bethlehem. But the pun cannot but generate a smile. Larry King was not far off the mark. Behe’s book basically challenges the naturalist into recognizing that biochemically evolution is impossible. In just one of the many outstanding chapters he illustrates his point by describing the chemical changes that are set in motion to generate sight. From the moment a photon hits the retina to the end result of an imbalance of charge that causes a current to be transmitted down the optic nerve to the brain, resulting in sight, a series of chemical reactions have taken place that in evolution’s mechanism would have been impossible. His bottom line argument is this: The irreducible complexity of the human cell meets Darwin’s test of what it would take to prove Darwinism false.
How does the scientific community react to this? One scientist sitting next to me at a meeting said, "Give us time; we will find an answer." If that was not a betrayal of bigotry in its determination to find materialistic answers at all costs, I do not know what is. If the theist uttered such hopes were theism to face such an impossible explanation, he or she would be mocked with the same venom that Darrow spewed upon William Jennings Bryan in the infamous Scopes trial. Buttressing this "naturalism at all costs mentality," Darwinism’s fiercest watchdog, Richard Dawkins at Oxford, unable to scientifically challenge Behe, dismissed him as intellectually lazy. "Tell him to go and find an answer in his own discipline," he bellowed.
This blind-spot, if not unbridled arrogance, came home to me again when I was visiting the world’s largest and most powerful telescope for radar and radio astronomy, nestled in the edenic hills of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Human habitation seems miles away. The design and setup are absolutely fascinating. The great dish that receives the signals is about twenty acres in its spatial dimensions and can probe the heart of quasars ten billion light years away at the edge of the discernible universe. The dish emits the radio waves from the stars to the Gregorian reflector system perfectly positioned above it, which in turn concentrates the signal and sends it to the receivers. Information then travels along cables to the main research building, where specialized equipment converts it into a digital format. A sophisticated computer network analyzes the information and finally stores it for future reference. I understand this observatory has been featured in several movies, including Contact, one of Carl Sagan’s last stabs at a self-explained universe before he himself passed away. What would these very geniuses say if we gloried with them in this apparatus and then told them to just give us enough time and we will explain how the Arecibo Observatory just popped into existence and was not designed by the luminaries whose pictures line their walls? How intellectually lazy of them to attribute such a finely tuned system to anyone’s ingenuity!
But such are the vagaries of the human mind in its bent to reject the rational and settle for the indubitably irrational. Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick in 1973 proposed that life on earth may have begun when aliens from another planet sent a rocket ship containing spores to seed the earth. Just in case we think he was being funny, don’t laugh. He reiterated this belief in a 1992 interview with Scientific American. My question before God would be whether such people actually believed what they claimed to believe, or was it done all along while harboring a disconcerting doubt within? Was all this posturing nothing more than a self-serving masquerade so as to be relieved of all moral responsibility? We know what is at the heart of their rejection of God, but what is going on deep inside within their thought processes? How real is their conviction, how deep is their doubt? I will have to await a conversation with my Lord before I will know for sure. Will we be observers when God answers Bertrand Russell and questions Francis Crick?
But there is a second question that is more burdensome and worrisome. Even the skeptic with a blind spot can see this one clearly. Over the years, I have come up against this one repeatedly from the university floor. In fact, just hours before penning this article I was faced with the same question from a fellow passenger on a plane. The range of the challenge is wide but its focal point is the same. It is this: History has not painted a good picture of the way in which Christianity has made some of its gains. Politicized, militarized and empowered in numerous ways, it has run roughshod over people and often has left a debris-ridden if not bloody trail in its wake. Why has this happened? Were such carriers of the message truly persuaded that they were doing the will of God or deep within them did they know that theirs was an effort to devalue others and to use God for their own purpose? Spiritual talk with power motives is the deadliest of all plagues. I would long to know the inside story of such lives.
The reason I raise this goes beyond demagoguery and power-mongering. The question filters down deep into our own personal lives. After years in the ministry I have seen so much and heard so much that leaves a puzzlement beyond measure. Why is there so much belligerence in lives that speak of grace? Why is so much hate and anger vented by many who name the name of Christ? After all, Paul does charge Timothy to watch his doctrine and conduct. To quote my fellow passenger, who happened to be from the East,"Christians are like vegetarians who harp on the virtue of vegetarianism but have a meat market of their own downtown." It is true that some of the most obnoxious letters we receive are from some of the most pious sounding people. Some of the greatest rancor vented is often done in the name of righteousness, and I have frequently sat at my desk or laid my head down at the pillow at night and asked the Lord, "Why? How can this be?" Oh, I know the common answers to these issues. We all do. But deep inside there is a struggle. Are those who are governed by such blatant violations of the Gospel aware of their hypocrisy or is there a pitiful desensitization that has plundered the heart? Where is the personal relationship we proclaim when He seems so absent in the living? This was the first major question posed to me when I became a Christian. A Hindu friend of mine asked my brother-in-law and me when we were new believers, "Is conversion truly a supernatural work or is it all just psychological and affects some while it does not change others?"
It may be that when the time comes to sit across the table from the Lord of history the answer to the skeptic and the believer will be more visible than it will be in need of utterance. Ironically, the clue came to me in the form of a question inscribed on a painting I saw in a pastor’s office in Puerto Rico. Just before we went into the sanctuary, my eyes caught a glimpse of it directly in front of his desk. It was the picture of a little girl holding the hand of Jesus, even as He tenderly gazed at her. She was clasping His hand as she asked Him, "Que paso con tus manos?"—"What happened to your hands?" That question, I suspect, contains the answer to the arrogance of the skeptic and the duplicity of the believer. It carries Larry King’s question to a more profound level. The virgin birth may only prove to the skeptic that naturalism cannot explain the world’s existence, that God has supernaturally intervened in history. He was born of a virgin. In a supernatural framework that is possible. But "What happened to your hands?" answers what it takes to rescue this life of mine from self-serving intellect or from self-glorifying moralizing to others, and brings me to a place from which I no longer live but Christ lives in me. It buries the self that seeks the self and brings to birth the fullest person that God has so uniquely endowed. In the cross I find my definitive loss that I might obtain my greatest gain. Only when the skeptic and the believer can see in my hands the marks that prompt "What happened to your hands?" can life’s questions cease and answers pour forth from the depths of the soul.
Some weeks ago a man in our church stood up and gave a very moving testimony of a sudden turn of events in his life. Larry told of how five years ago he was enjoying the success of business when he sensed God leading him into ministry. He battled and reasoned, and considered the possibility of putting off that decision another five years. He thought he could steady his company a little more and then be secure in his move into ministry. But he believed God wanted him then and there. So he walked away from his business. Now five years later he had just received word that he had cancer of the brain. With a tear-filled countenance knowing his days were short, he said,"Folks, if I had waited five years to go into ministry, I would have lost the most wonderful five years in my life." The congregation, quite overcome with the surprise of it all, wept with him tears of joy and sorrow. To the casual observer he then looked well, but with each passing day life and strength are clearly slipping away.
A few short weeks later our pastor was giving a report of his time at the "Stand In the Gap" gathering in Washington. He was telling the story of how life-changing that event was. And then he incidentally mentioned that as he was pushing Larry in his wheelchair through the masses of people, he wondered what was going through Larry’s mind. That simple line caught my attention— my pastor wheeling Larry through this maze of humanity. I somehow doubt Larry gave thought to his cancer or even wondered where God was. I suspect that in the breathtaking sight of a million men on their faces before God he saw something glorious. But I dare to suggest he was aware of more than that. He was aware of a pair of hands that wheeled him through the crowd and endured the travail of a journey like that for his sake. Those hands, backed up by a life, enfleshed a message of one committed to the service of Him who had gone to the cross for both of them.
Abraham Lincoln in his latter years said, "When I left Springfield, I asked people to pray for me; I was not a Christian. When I buried my son—the severest trial of my life—I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg, and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ." The biographer adds these lines to that moment— "The president was at the cross."
From talk-show hosts to viewers of the Titanic and to all of us who wrestle with life’s questions, the answer is the same. The longer I have lived the more I come to believe that it is not evidence of which we are short nor knowledge of discipleship of which we are deprived. For most, what we lack is the courage and contentment to go to the cross and to die to ourselves, prompting the world to ask, "What happened to your hands?" There, the purpose of history and the purpose of life converge.
Our questions will always remain. But these two for me are reminders of where the answers ultimately have to lead. With this in mind, Calvin Miller, said:
The sermon and the Spirit always work in combination to pro-nounce liberation.
Sometimes the Spirit and sermon do supply direct answers to human need but most often they answer indirectly.
The sermon no matter how sincere cannot solve these unsolvable problems. Rather, together with the Spirit the sermon exists to point out that having answers is not essential to living. What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.
Our need for specific answers is dissolved in the greater issue of the Lordship of Christ over all questions—those that have answers and those that don’t.
To Miller’s statement I would just change the last line to read, "Those that have only intellectual answers and those that transcend the intellect." Or better still,"Those that Bethlehem can answer and those that only Calvary can."