It’s a fact that haunts me daily. I cannot escape it — it is there, like a soreness that needs an analgesic rub. Pastors are expected to have all the answers. The simple statement of that fact alleviates some of the soreness, yet doesn’t erase it completely. The prideful side of me wants to say, “Why yes, I do know the answer to that question. And here it is…” as I wax eloquent, speaking without periods or commas.
Over the past couple of years, it seems I’ve been on the receiving end of too many unanswerable questions. Slack-jawed and gape-eyed is not what parishioners normally expect of their pastor, but sometimes that is what they get. Waxed eloquence morphs into plaintive shrugs. Yet as much as I love the Lord and desire to serve Him more fully, there are some things about Him that I just don’t understand. I have expected that in aging, life would get simpler, yet it has grown more complex. Many of the things with which I daily struggle, like significance, health, pain, sorrow, evil, and an assortment of other human maladies, I have anticipated readier acceptance, not heightened confusion. Yet they increase in complexity, and answers become more elusive.
I truly do not struggle with why we have a child with spina bifida anymore. I overcame that the day she was born, and even more so on day #16 when I finally was able to cradle her in my longing arms. I do struggle with the existence of the infirmity itself. Why does spina bifida exist? Or for that matter autism, or cerebral palsy, or Down’s syndrome, or insert-your-affliction-here? Within a theological framework, I understand it. We can talk about theodicies, the problem of evil, the universal nature of sin, sin’s prodigious effects, and a whole host of other theological knots that can only be untied by the love of a sovereign God.
But why my child?
I’ve read through God’s Word over ten times now and I’m grateful for the increased familiarity that it has brought to my heart. But even in the expectation of that greater fluency, I’ve discovered a deeper complexity; like sitting in a baby pool and then stepping off in the deep end—gasping for breath I realize I’m not as wise I thought. I can easily rejoin that question with “Well, why not my child?” But I’ve betrayed myself looking for the simple again when there is a deeper, more significant, more profound meaning lingering deep, longing for my discovery, aching for me to know it; to know Him.
I find the answer for which I search in her easily-given smile; within those almond-shaped seas of blue; every step she takes unaided; every word spoken in defiance of Chiari; every string tied within our family binding us more closely because of her. St. Augustine of Hippo stated the answers I’ve long sought succinctly, eloquently, even with an economy of words, approximately 1650 years ago. To my chagrin, I’ve asked the wrong questions, anticipating, even desiring, the wrong answers. Augustine framed the issue in two simple statements: “If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” As Ann Voskamp recently wrote, “I wonder if I have spent a lifetime of murmuring under my breath only the second question?”
If I am continually preoccupied with why something beyond my explanation is then I will altogether miss the way I could be. For too long, I stationed myself in a Habakkuk-like watch, waiting for God’s condescension, to answer me utterly—“I will stand my watch! I will set myself upon the rampart and wait to see what He will say to me!” (Habakkuk 2:1). But the answer is there and she is altogether lovely. They all are, all six of them. The good in the world cannot be—should not be—eclipsed by the hardness of my heart toward His grace and love.
There are answers, friends, sometimes just not where we expect. I’m praying you find yours.
God is the only one capable of loving us like He does. I am reluctantly sliding into those years of forced retirement with more questions than answers. As time goes by I realize that not only are there questions without adequate answers, there are questions I do not have the understanding to comprehend or ask. Our daughter would have been 37 this year. She died when she was 6 of a very difficult illness. Time and love have helped ease the pain, but in those twilight hours of early morning I still ask the proverbial question “what if”. We are going through several very difficult issues today. I want to just lie down in the middle of the yard and scream “why me”. The answer may be “why not me”. We have seven other children with seven grandchildren that ask and cause many more questions. Yet their love, relationship and hope keep us focused on the task at hand. Life is short, so dance as often as you can.
Many my age are settled into the routine of less questions, we have our house for sale and looking foward to the next adventure and the next set of questions.
I have sent a few resumes to churches hoping to be their pastor. I have pastored the same church for ten years and through much prayer and many questions we have come to the answer it is time to move on. The question is more where. I have come to the conclusion that the older one gets the more invisible they become. I will agree age does not bring a better understanding or fewer questions. Maybe time does bring wisdom and patience but does not answer the questions.