Answers in life matter less than answering. The process of responding to questions, of responding to life itself, is more important than any particular response. As an old railroad song puts it – if you’ve taken a trip on an old railroad, steam-powered locomotive and all, you’ll know this – “Isn’t it the going and not the getting there.”
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Reportedly, Jesus provided direct answers to only three of the 183 questions he asked in our four gospels. I think he wasn’t very interested in people’s answers, knowing as he did that our answers will change as we mature, because his answers changed as he “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:52). I think Jesus used questions not because he expected settled answers but because he wanted to unsettle us, to open us to growth and new insights, to accustom us to living productively with the unanswerable mystery that is God.
That’s partly why I like so much the questions Jesus asks in the scriptures. I think they reflect the questions he was living with and was answering for himself. I think they point toward some of Jesus’ growing edges, places where his faith was deepening and his relationship with God growing richer, more complex, more nuanced. They open for me new possibilities for how to live with the questions I have and the decisions, particularly the important ones, I must make.
In the gospel reading for Sunday (Luke 24:36b-48), the risen Jesus begins his encounter with his disciples by asking a pair of questions. “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” We may think we know the answer. “They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.” But things change, new possibilities open up, when I consider that the questions were ones Luke was really posing to his readers, including me. Why am I frightened? Why do doubts arise in my heart? Any time I’m in the midst of an important transition in life, I’ll do a lot better with it – make better, more faithful decisions – when I’m aware of how I’m living with those two questions.