In the Gospels religious leaders often confront Jesus, attempting to prove that he adheres to the wrong beliefs. Should we pay taxes or not? Will a woman have seven husbands at the resurrection? Who is my neighbor? If the question is worded just right, then the questioner, and everyone else standing around, will finally know whether Jesus is with us, or against us. However, Jesus does not fall prey to these traps. His answers turn the tables and often reveal the motivation behind the questions. He refuses to be narrowly defined.
As I read these parts of the gospels I cheer – Go get’em, Jesus! Isn’t it great we’re on the same side? Yet, recently I started to wonder about the questions I ask. If not of Jesus, at least of other Christians. I want people to see things they way I do. I want them, and Jesus, to affirm my doctrine. I want to trap them into being either for or against what I believe. What roles can women take at church? Who really is a Christian? How do you interpret the Creation story in Genesis? Once I determine how they respond to these questions, I can spend time defending my side and taking comfort in knowing I’m right. Yet, after such conversations I feel empty. I am the one trapped.
Not that these questions and thoughtful responses aren’t important at some level. However, the amount of time I perceive Christians, including myself, dealing with such issues is disproportionate to time spent doing what we are called to do. There may be some murky parts of the Bible that we will never agree on this side of heaven. Even so, the real mission is hitting us in the face – worshiping God, loving our neighbor, making disciples. Waiting for and ironing out the right answers in doctrinal conundrums does not save us from having to go out into the mess of showing mercy today.
So I realize I need to stop trapping the gospel in the limits of my failed human understanding. However, that doesn’t mean I need to stop asking questions. I just need to be ready to hear some critical answers in response. Jesus’ responses to the pharisees and others, though providing answers, often opened up more questions. Maybe some of the opaqueness in the Bible is there for a reason and is not for us always to figure out. Instead we can live in the ambiguity, trusting in the One who is the answer, while we step out in the story of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.