I remember well when my children were younger and at the questioning phase. It seemed they were more interested in asking the question than in my answer. “Mommy, what’s God look like?” “how does fire work?” “why is Grandpa old?” or “where did the sky come from?” - the endless barrage of inquiries often didn’t slow for a response. Nonetheless, most of the time I dutifully attempted an answer, assuming this was my job as parent. But in hindsight I wish I had more often just listened and mused with them about the wonder of God’s world and the impossibilities of knowing.
As I read scripture, I’m spending more time these days asking questions of the text than looking for answers. And I’m coming to believe that this process may be one of the most important steps in learning to read God’s word. Perhaps as God’s children we come to know him more completely as we live in the unknowns, dwell in the mysteries. But for most of us adults, this goes against the grain. We want an answer and we want it now!
From this week’s Lectio scripture (Gen 25-36) I ponder:
- Why the repeating theme among the patriarchs (Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebekah, Jacob/Rachel) of infertility in their beloved wives? (Gen 16:1, 18: 10-11, 25:21, 29: 31)
- What kind of craziness occurs when Jacob takes Laban’s spotted, speckled, and streaked livestock and mates them in front of fresh-cut tree branches peeled to make white stripes on them, and then as a result the livestock bear young that are spotted, speckled, and streaked? (Gen 30: 32-43)
- What is the significance of Rachel’s theft of her father’s household Gods as she and Jacob’s clan were leaving? (31:19) And what are the overtones in the text when Rachel hides them by sitting upon them and then lying to her father by saying it is her period? (31:35)
- Does Jacob wrestle with God or with a man? (Gen 32:22-32) What does he say about the experience? (32:30) What does the text say? (32: 24-25) Why don’t these two seem to match?
- What are we to make of the gruesome story of Shechem’s rape of Dinah and Jacob’s son’s deceitful response regarding circumcision that leads to the manslaughter of an entire unsuspecting city? (Gen 34)
- Why the extensive genealogy of Esau, father of the Edomites, between the story of Isaac’s death and the account of Joseph and his dreams? (Gen 36)
As I ponder, I am drawn closer to the incomprehensible God of scripture: the one who revealed himself in a burning bush, who came in the form of a helpless baby born to a virgin, who proclaimed that the poor are blessed. The upside-down kingdom of God is manifest in the midst of many questions.
“We tend to value answers more highly than questions, as the goal worth achieving, as the finish line. Midrash, however, equates questions with intimacy. Midrash values the question, and the sacred language that gives rise to it, as ground for meeting with God.” (The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash, Judith M. Kunst, p. 32-33)
May we experience the holy meeting ground with God as we ask, seek and knock, and then as His children may we wait patiently in hope and faith and trust.
Celeste M. Cranston, Director of the Center for Biblical and Theological Education