I Don’t Understand
What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he? In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus asks the gathered Pharisees a question about the Messiah as they expect him to come. They respond that he will be the son of David, a descendent of the great king who symbolizes their faith.
Who do people say that I am? Jesus asks the disciples, in the 9th chapter of Luke, what they are hearing regarding his ministry. The disciples say that there is a divergence of opinion among the peoples. And Jesus says to them, But who do you say that I am?
Each of these conversations results in some stated expectations about the Christ figure and just what he will be like. And each conversation reveals that the people Jesus speaks with really don’t understand what the Messiah, the Christ, will do. The Pharisees seem to think that, as a descendent of David, the Messiah will be somewhat less important than the great king. Jesus informs them that the Christ will be king of all, greater than any human king. The disciples seem to think that the Christ will be victorious over all things. Jesus reminds them that the Christ will suffer and die. It’s very clear that neither the Pharisees nor the disciples, nor anyone else at that time, knew just what the Christ might be like. Even in the presence of the Christ themselves, they couldn’t understand. Jesus kept telling them that the Christ would mean more than they could appreciate, that the Christ was beyond their comprehension.
I’ve long associated clarity and discernment with the presence of God. When I am confused or have a hard decision to make, I ask God for help. God doesn’t always tell me just what to do. Rarely, in fact, does that happen. But often I am provided some peace within which I can see the best path forward. Always, when that happens, I feel like God has blessed me and I am grateful.
But the presence of God carries something much more with it. Many of my questions in life just don’t get solved. Sure, God might accompany me so that I may find my way through a difficult time in life. But many of my hard questions remain unanswered. Why is there suffering? What is the purpose of this event? How is it that some are so fortunate and others so plagued? Why is God’s timing so different from mine? Most of my faith related questions, in fact, point out how little understanding I have.
But isn’t it true that these times of not understanding are among the holiest times we can have in life? What would it be like if we never had such times? Daily we are humbled and put in awe of things greater than we can ever be. Regularly life shows us that, while we are not in control, something very powerful and good is in control. As we surrender, let go, admit our powerlessness, we do not spin into the abyss. There, in that admission of things beyond our ability to solve, we meet the great God of all who holds us. As we admit our own lack of knowing, we enter a place of truth. Truth, we find, is more than we can ever be or know. We don’t grab hold of it so much as it grabs hold of us. In those times we realize that if we could actually know the answers, the answers wouldn’t be big enough to satisfy us. If there were not something bigger than us, what would be the use of being at all?
Faith teaches us that God is beyond understanding, that while he visits us with clarity, God is not a commodity to be used only for our gain. We are temporal and not all that we want to be, all that we imagine can be. Deep inside we know we are not God and these times of not understanding things force us to face that fact. They tell us the deep truth we already sense: there is something beyond us which is bigger than us.
Times of not understanding force us to live in mystery and awe. They force us to wait. They remind us that there is a God who is more than we can imagine. As uncomfortable as these times are, they truly are holy times of acknowledgment.
The next time you don’t understand something, pause to remember you are meeting God himself. He is there to hold you. While what you face is beyond you, it isn’t beyond God.
Robert Wisnewski, Jr.