Out of Answers?: you’re not out of God

I have the privilege of teaching the Bible to college freshman. For most of them, the Bible is mostly a set of impressions. Even if they know some Bible stories, they really know very little about the Bible. They think of the Bible primarily through some religious assumptions that have been modeled before them. This is true whether they are Christians or not. And some of these get in their way of knowing God.

The biggest untested assumption that they bring to Scripture is that it is some kind of answer book, that it speaks with one voice on all topics. The Bible is a great monolith, and so is God who is purported to be pulling all the levers.

Here’s the thing about this view of God and Scripture. If a sensitive, reflective, thoughtful student has begun to entertain questions about all that he or she has inherited, then they’ve got a crisis of faith. To question puts them outside the boundary.

And these students have questions. They have questions about violence and the degradation of the planet and homosexuality and gender and power in the church. And too often, the very presence of these questions makes them feel dangerous to themselves.

A few weeks ago, I taught on the book of Job. Job is placed in a conundrum. His experience does not square with what he believes about God. Job is committed to holding on to his integrity, which includes two things–his faith in God and his personal experience of life. His wife wants him to give up the faith in God part. “Why do you hold on to your integrity? Curse God and die.” His friends want him to deny his personal experience. “These kinds of things don’t happen to the upright. Confess your sins (a rough paraphrase).” But Job persists, requiring that his understanding of God conform to his experience of life. And in the process he says some pretty sketchy things about God.

In the end, Job is humbled and perhaps satisfied in his encounter with God. Not because he gets answers, but because he gets the presence of God. This is enough. And perhaps more importantly, God upholds Job. God scolds the safe-talking friends who refuse to move past their answers about God, “My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God affirms Job, the one who moves beyond answers to a more direct encounter with God.

I told my students that there will come a day in their lives when their answers about God no longer conform to their personal experience of the world. This does not mean they are out of God. There’s God beyond our answers about God, and God honors those who relentlessly pursue the living God.

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
This entry was posted in hermeneutics, Scripture, theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Out of Answers?: you’re not out of God

  1. scrumpyfu says:

    I know that final paragraph rings very true for me – unfortunately, it’s led to some serious disconnect with even my own family. But I still believe God’s bigger than all that and still seeks that connection with us, too.

  2. ashanam says:

    Well put. Thank you.

  3. “Not because he gets answers, but because he gets the presence of God.” This is very difficult for most of us to comprehend and apprehend. But a wonderful explanation of what I should strive for.

  4. Wow. What a beautiful and compelling post. You seem like the kind of teacher that is more interested in students finding answers for the rest of their lives rather than memorizing what you say about the Bible. I wish I could take your class.

  5. Melanie says:

    Thank you for sharing that questions aren’t bad, and that answers aren’t always there. I was beginning to wonder if I lacked the intelligence to find the answers.
    I have reached a point in my life when the answers about God that are familiar don’t sit right with me anymore. I feel “outside the boundary” with my questions. I posted my most recent question (http://deliberatedonkey.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/a-crisis-of-faith/), but I generally shy away because then people will know I question God and I’m usually told that’s wrong (the post commentors didn’t, and I’m thankful for that).

  6. llconley32 says:

    Awesome! The essence of God can be truly revealed during a personal relationship. Others that are sown in the fabric of the world can mislead those in flux.

  7. petermadjus says:

    Amen! When God is present in ones life, everything is great,your views are positive even if your in the middle of tides of hopelessness. Based on my own experience i can relate to the book of Job though i am not tested with illness yet but i was tested with other giants in my life that i fortunately faced and turned down with Gods guidance and grace. Thank you.

  8. JT says:

    Pursuit of, and not about, God is perhaps where many of us can become disenfranchised. The seeking part, when we realize it as a lifelong journey, becomes a little easier.

  9. nigeil says:

    Reblogged this on Catholic College Chronicles and commented:
    What an insightful way of looking at God and Scriptures.

  10. AMEN! I grew up in a Christian home but didn’t have a relationship with God until recently and I am in my mid fifties, It felt so good to finally have that “moment” and the best part of it is the knowledge and acceptance of my limitations and influence on the things that happen in my life. To realize that sometimes all I can do is to pray has given me a true sense of calm in some of the most turbulent times.I find my prayers are more prayers of thanks than prayers of desperation now.

  11. nigeil says:

    What a very insightful way of looking at crises of faith such as these; you’re never out of God. I loved the way that Pascal talked about it, I can’t remember the quote exactly, but basically, if we could understand everything about God, he wouldn’t be God. Trying to make God fit into our minds exactly is so far beyond what we are capable of, and yet God has gifted some with such knowledge as this. Truly remarkable.

  12. chicagoja says:

    Well said. I believe that a belief in God, regardless of how you define him, is a matter of faith and everybody seems to have a different definition of God based on what they’ve been taught or perhaps a personal experience. Our belief systems shape our perspective of the world we experience. If we believe in God and something magical happens in our life, we tend to believe that God came into our lives (which parallels my life). But, who’s to say that it was God? As Voltaire said, “If God didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him”. So we do. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think that it’s good for people to have a “relationship” of some sort with God. My question for you is this: As a man of God, when do you tell them the truth(assuming that you even know what it is)?

    • Mark Love says:

      I think you’re always telling people what you think the truth is. And we definitely have some answers that are sure and unshakable. Ironically, I think its the willingness to continually pursue God that keeps us from creating God in our own image.

      • chicagoja says:

        Okay, but how then do you know your answers about God are true?

      • Mark Love says:

        I know this sounds like a trite statement, but in many of the same ways we know anything else is true. We know things are true by bringing a lot of things together–trusted authorities, fit to our experience, the ability to explain phenomenon, communities of discernment and knowing, etc.

      • chicagoja says:

        It’s not trite at all. Here’s the thing. Many people seem to need something more than a faith-based God. If they then don’t have any real-life personal experiences of God in their lives, they become discouraged and perhaps even become atheists. Religion only seems to have alienated those people, having offered them an indiscernible dogma rather than an environment of hope, love and encouragement which they desperately need. Your thoughts?

    • burstingjoy says:

      The last few days i’ve been trying to figure out truth. I’ve discovered truth is a person, thing or object – not ideas. Heres my blog post if you want to take a look
      http://burstingjoy.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/what-is-truth/

  13. cripperz says:

    faith and beliefs always balance the radical thoughts of wanting scientific proofs… a very fine thin line.

  14. Awesome post. Very often our questions drive us to doubt God, especially when we observe His employing of us as humans making the mistakes.And then we are on the same level as Job’s wife and and friends. In my study on the reasons causing the differences between the KJV and the NIV (www.bibledifferences.net) I am often astounded at God’s patience with us humans. And yet seeking God behind all and looking at the impact of the original Word God let be written down, brings us to stand in awe before God. Glory to His Name!
    Herman

  15. IM Sirius says:

    Learning about the origins of the Bible is, I think, important. Checking the foundation of a building before buying is always a good idea.

  16. I have a question: How do the ‘answers about God not conform(ing) to their own personal experience of the world’ coincide with experiencing God? Because, unless I’ve misinterpreted what you said, when Job moves beyond the answers to a more direct encounter with God, mustn’t this encountered presence be experienced? And how does this then, in turn, fit in with the negative experiences that people have of God; ie, the one’s your students have had issues with? Not at all meaning to sound critical or spiteful, just genuinely trying to comprehend this perspective, one where I very well may have missed the point.

    • Mark Love says:

      This is a very thoughtful response. Thanks. Obviously, we never know anything apart from our experience. And there is no such thing as experience unless we somehow are making sense of it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that God is not never simply the sum of our thoughts about God. And usually in life, our framework for interpreting God’s presence in our experience gets undone. The world no longer corresponds to our understanding of God. And this can be very challenging if we think of God in fairly simple formulas. So, I’m after two points here. Some of us poorly set up for having the world upset the answers we have because we have a very limited understanding of God. And second, that being unafraid of questioning our understanding of God in light of our continuing experience can be something that serves Gods purposes in being known.

      • Okay, sure, I can understand that. Thanks.

        I don’t know if you’ve ever read Jung’s work, but it’s a great tool for grasping (or, not grasping, as it were) the psychological/philosophical aspects to what you seem to be speaking of. I can appreciate this idea of God; it seems a lot less dogmatic. I’m not religious in any way, though if more people did identify God as something purely and only beyond the sum of their individual thoughts, then I’m sure more people would be more inclined to find the God you speak of, or, as it translates in my terms, a sense of unaffected peace that lies dormant within our modern minds. Again, thanks for the clarification.

  17. You took God out of the box–and gave me something valuable to think about.

  18. Pingback: Out of Answers?: you’re not out of God « gracesavesus

  19. why does god want his people to relentlessly pursue him?

  20. Pingback: Out of Answers?: you’re not out of God « The 50-something life of a Southern gal

  21. Very interesting post, thanks!

  22. If this “God” creature you speak of can be considered real by human beings, then questions about its nature, extent, and causal relationships to other entities are answerable and the answers won’t involve contradictions.

    But if “God’s” nature is held to be intrinsically unknowable to human beings, (without contradiction) then no human being has any business speaking about this creature, even long enough to postulate its existence. Indeed, no human being has any business even thinking about it. Contradictions don’t and can’t exist in our sheer sensory perception of the world. Our concepts are derived from sense experience (see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand.) Thus, any contradictions between the concepts we use are to be regarded as the results of correctable errors in our thinking.

    To postulate something that necessarily generates contradictions in the attempt to understand it is to postulate something that is utterly outside the realm of human cognition. Since it is outside the realm of human cognition, any statements about it, including that it is “real” are literally meaningless.

    • I can know all I want to ever know about dogs, but I will never be a dog. Therefore my human cognition of them is limited. Yet every day I enjoy my dog and help others to do the same.

      • Of course, human knowledge about anything is always limited. Yet you have a sensory basis for forming the concept “dog,” you have seen certain finite creatures with a certain general shape, pattern of behavior, etc. There is no basis for saying that our knowledge of dogs can go to a certain point and no further. If people come to a contradiction in their study of dogs, they would think that they had made an error.

        This is typically not the case when people speak of God. They have no first-hand sensory basis for such a concept, and no basis for thinking that such a being is even plausible. What they have is a book written by vaguely-known authors that is a mixture of history, folk wisdom, tradition, hearsay and “magic numbers” (3, 6, 7, 40, etc.) used as statistical figures. Unlike biologists who study dogs, theologians typically claim that there are inherent limits to human comprehension of God. Human knowledge can go up to a certain point and no further, because human reason runs into contradictions. (For example, an “infinite being,” an “omnipotent being,” and “three distinct beings that are one God”) Such a being is literally unthinkable, and my previous point stands. (Please see: God at ARL.)

        If there is a finite, natural creature called “God” that is comprehensible to the human mind, then sensory evidence should eventually show it. Our belief in such a being should be contingent on solid, credible evidence, as it is with dogs. We also have stories about fairies and unicorns, but since they have not been shown to exist, people generally don’t discuss what the fairies want them to do, or the laws that the unicorns have set forth for mankind.

      • So if something has not been proven to exist, then that is proof it does not?. Humans have been theorized to have been around for at least a million years. Did those first humans ever imagine what we know today? Can you imagine what another million years could discover? So glad the type of people who discovered the world was round and cures for diseases don’t think like those who have no hope. . Believing there is no God is full of its own contradictions.

    • burstingjoy says:

      “If there is a finite, natural creature called “God” that is comprehensible to the human mind, then sensory evidence should eventually show it. Our belief in such a being should be contingent on solid, credible evidence, as it is with dogs.”

      You say God can’t exist because we can’t use our senses to sense God.

      I argue this. I have a relationship with God and use my senses everyday in this relationship. No, I haven’t SEEN God, but i have seen the evidence of God. I have seen supernatural things occur. I have heard God’s voice in the quiet – a strange but undeniable thing. I have sensed his presence, a feeling of complete calm and peace, or in other cases a heightened awareness of something near.

      That’s what faith is. Believing in something you cannot see. And believe it or not you have faith. You believe there’s oxygen in the air you breathe. But you can’t see it. You believe in love. You can’t see love but you can see the evidence of love. You can feel love.

      There’s more to believing than seeing. Ask different Christians about their God experiences and your mind could be blown with the reality of supernatural existence.

      • @burstingjoy: Faith is not simply believing in things you can’t see directly. Rational belief (knowledge) ultimately reduces to sensory data, but it is not confined to direct perception. We can reasonably infer the existence of things that have visible effects, like viruses in an electron microscope image. We never see virus particles directly, but we can infer their existence from their effects on our bodies and on our instruments (evidence). The broader the knowledge we gain from perception, the more indirectly we can reasonably infer from effects to causes. There is no faith required in this. Faith is the belief in something without any evidence; i.e. without any effects that can reasonably be attributed to it in the full context of our knowledge.

        @camdenstables: “So if something has not been proven to exist, then that is proof it does not?”
        No. But the onus of proof is on the person who asserts that something exists to show that it does. No one has a logical obligation to prove the nonexistence of something in order to disregard claims about it.

        “So glad the type of people who discovered the world was round and cures for diseases don’t think like those who have no hope.”
        Why would you assume that someone who doesn’t believe things on faith has no hope? This is absurd. The whole basis of a real hope is the rational observation that happiness is possible to you on earth. The “hope” of a Messiah and heaven is actually a delusion. (Note that in the Bible, Jesus taught that his return would be within the lifetimes of the generation then alive–Mark 13:30 See: http://freethought.mbdojo.com/2ndcoming.html ). It has been 2000 years, and the events predicted in the Bible for Jesus’s generation still haven’t happened.
        You don’t need this delusion to have hope.

  23. Alaina says:

    I’ve been nursing a broken heart, and lo and behold, I find this in Freshly Pressed. Praise be to God.

    Thank you for this. It reassures me that I must continue to love God “beyond all limits”, as St. Bernard says. This has been a blessing during this rough time in my life. God bless you.

  24. Pingback: Out of Answers?: You’re Not Out of God « AvantGuard

  25. tersiaburger says:

    I grew up in a Christian home and loved God and my church. I have become very disillusioned with the lovelessness of so-called Christians. In my personal life I have not experienced the love of God. I battle with what represents love in the Bible. Passion of the Christ was a barbaric movie and I cannot begin to comprehend that being love.
    My 38 year old daughter is terminally ill. Her suffering is incomprehensible. There can be absolutely no purpose in her suffering. Maybe her demise but suffering? No!!
    I do believe in God. Just not a God of Mercy. I am not a Job. I cannot see God’s love for me in my life…

  26. I’m soo pleased to be seeing more and more scripture-based posts being Freshly Pressed! Congrats! Keep it coming, you have a big platform and a big mission 😀

  27. LubbyGirl says:

    About 8 months ago, I began my blogging journey. I discovered this thing called Freshly Pressed a couple or so months into my experience, and even wrote a post about it. At that time I had looked through many, many posts featured on Freshly Pressed and did not find any that represented Christians or faith in Christ in a positive light. You didn’t mention a faith in Jesus here, but a faith in God – which to me is a faith in Jesus Christ. So glad to see this in Freshly Pressed!!

  28. Pingback: Out of Answers?: you’re not out of God « Patric Benziher

  29. asterisk says:

    “God honors those who relentlessly pursue the living God.”

    Amen 🙂 Kim+

    http://www.faithhopeandloveblog.wordpress.com

  30. Life is not like a textbook … All the answers aren’t at the back of the book.
    For me, what’s more important is the lessons we learn from our personal questions, explorations and discoveries.
    Sometimes, the ideas closest to my heart have taken years to understand.

  31. gnovember says:

    Thank you for this reminder encouraging us to question and examine our faith but not to expect the answers in our life experiences and the circumstances that we have gone through. And indeed, that its limiting to expect to find answers to the essence of Christ in our circumstances. Congrats on being FP’d.

  32. legalsource87 says:

    Interesting! …

  33. Ok, so this is the third unexpected look at Job that I’ve had in 24 hours – it’s making me a little nervous! What is God preparing me for? It’s so great to know that there are profs and schools out there that are teaching the truth. Thanks. And thanks for stopping by my blog!

  34. Pingback: Morning Links (November 12, 2012) | Justin Hiebert

  35. matthewhyde says:

    I’m slowly getting to the point where I believe it’s okay not to have all the answers. I find it difficult to understand how people can read the accounts of child killings and Jephthah’s daughter and all the other ‘difficult’ bits of the Bible *without* having a whole bunch of questions. And that’s okay, because as the post says, the important thing is to find God, not answers.

  36. Reblogged this on liketheveryfirsttime and commented:
    “I told my students that there will come a day in their lives when their answers about God no longer conform to their personal experience of the world. This does not mean they are out of God. There’s God beyond our answers about God, and God honors those who relentlessly pursue the living God.”

  37. Pingback: Out of Answers?: you’re not out of God « La.De.Dah~

  38. Lydia says:

    Beautiful and insightful post. We have to keep pursuing God and surrendering. Thanks for speaking the truth.

  39. Pingback: Weekly Wrap « Exploring Apprenticeship

  40. Love it. My favorite Bible verse is ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Job 1:21.

  41. robyn says:

    Thank you for reminding me that there is always more and God is worth the pursuit.

  42. Pingback: Where Are The Answers? « Thoughts from the Porch

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