Dull Knives | When Old Answers Don't Work Anymore
Peter De Vries was a writer and novelist. He grew up in a conservative Christian home, and church and studied in a conservative college. De Vries dedicated his 1959 novel, Through the Fields of Clover, "To Emily with Love." Emily was his daughter suffering from leukemia, who eventually died at the age of ten. De Vries wrote to J.D. Salinger, "One trip through a children's ward, and if your faith isn't shaken, you're not the type who deserves any faith." David Anderson commenting on this quote, in his book "loosing your Faith, Finding your Soul" wrote, "That's the voice from way beyond conventional belief. It's a man whose faith has been shaken, and he's no longer trying to whistle his way past a children's ward. De Vries is right. you don't deserve faith, if the old credulity hasn't been shaken." (pg.24)
As a pastor I have sat across many coffee tables, rooms, desks and awkward silences pondering how to respond to stories of anguish. Sometimes there are no words, sometimes there are no answers if they are asking "why?" And if there are answers, they are not the solution to the hurt. "Knowing" there is a "plan" does not make a painful situation hurt less. I would be lying if I said my faith isn't shaken every time I hear tragic stories. Often, it's not words I run out of, but faith in my conventional answers. Earlier this week I visited with a friend at Starbucks and I shared with her some of my thoughts. Every so often things don't fit together nicely anymore (Or they fit worse than it already did) and I start questioning my answers and questioning my questions. She commented that it could be concerning, me being a pastor and all, that I have doubts and questions. So what am I to do? I seek. I seek new answers. Answers that make more sense in a world that falls apart. As the Israelites were carried off into exile, I am sure that all the old answers they had began to fail them. They had never been exiled or lost everything until that moment (Clichés like, "everything happens for a reason" are great until something unacceptable happens). God then reminds them of the words He promised them in the Torah, "Then [when the old answers don't work anymore] you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you." (Jer 29:12-14, Deut 4:29). I have always said that I feel like a pilgrim on a pilgramage but at times I feel like a prisoner in exile seeking new meaning. For that reason I sense God inviting me to seek for him, and He woos me with the assurance that "the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages" (Col1:26) is revealed in Him.
I am no Qoheleth, sage, or wiseman, but I am a man haunted by God. Hungry for wisdom. Longing to understand how He would have me live here; now. But I offer these words to anyone who feels the way I do:
The answers to life's most difficult questions are like overused knives, they become dull. We need the same tool but a different one. You can keep resharpening but eventually you'll need to replace it. It is okay if your old answers do not make sense anymore. Do not confuse your failed answers with God.
Seek. For it is written, "Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing." (Is 43:18-19)