When Empty Answers Are The Best Ones of All

November 15, 2010 | 26 comments

She comes at me with eyes wide, wearing questions that rumble on her insides.

She’s in her 30s, born in the decade of disco. But she says she’s really only four years old, because she didn’t learn to dance free until 2006.

That’s the year she met Christ.

She grabs my wrists, asks me to come to a quiet place, because she thinks I know the answers to questions eating at her.

My insides rumble, too. I want to have the answers, but rarely do, and I’m afraid she’s going to be disappointed.

We walk through the bunk room of the retreat center, past the kitchen where aproned cooks chatter and spread chicken-salad on croissants. We shuffle past the fireplace, and find two empty chairs in an empty room. (And I pray my answers won’t be empty.)

She’s still holding my wrists.

We sit knee to knee. She gives voice to her fear.

“I’m scared to go deeper,” she says, and her voice trembles. “Sometimes God scares me.”

She paraphrases from Scripture about an angry God who crushed cities, laid out Levitical laws, sweeps with the “broom of destruction.”

“I read those words,” she says. “But sometimes I don’t understand what it all means.”

Four years ago, she started reading Children’s Bibles with neatly-packaged stories about a friend named Jesus, a Good Shepherd, a wise king named Solomon, and a rainbow over an ark.

She’s done with the children’s books now; she joined an adult study. But the words sometimes scare her. It seems everyone knows just where to turn in that big Book, and they all have just the right answers for the fill-in-the-blanks. She Googles for answers, afraid she won’t find them on her own.

“I’ve been in the baby pool, but I’m four years old now, and I need jump into the big-kid pool,” she says.

“But I’m scared.”

I nod. I know the fear of sitting on the rim of Scripture, toes dipping in and then recoiling.

I tell her how I used to run from questions because they made me second-guess everything I’d learned. I kept questions quiet. If I asked them aloud, wouldn’t people see a doubting heart between the lines?

I think about the words highlighted in my Bible’s study notes: “Silent doubts rarely find answers.”

I tell her about my Mystery File, the fattening manila folder on my desk back home. It’s the place where I put the questions that remain unanswered. Because Google doesn’t have all the answers either.

I want to tell her just to stick to the nice stories a while longer. I want to tell her to open pages to the latter third of the Bible. But even the Gospels confound me at times. Jesus has hard things to say, too.

Even the safest stories aren’t all that safe. Most of our faith heroes were tarnished. They murdered, and stole, and got drunk, and said dumb things, and called down deadly curses on people who called them names.

But it was in the questions, I tell her, where I first met Jesus. In the messiest stories of the Bible, we hear voices of the redeemed.

She and I link hands — one woman with questions, and one without answers. And we bow low before the Father who knows every answer. The Old Testament is flopped open on my lap, with a slip of paper stuck in Isaiah. The paper reads: “Keep reading … It’s not the end of the Book.”

I ask her: Could she and I just jump? Could we put on the Life Preservers and dive in, certain that we’ll be buoyed by the Truth of these empty answers: An empty cross and an empty tomb.

We thank God for a Book that doesn’t end on page 1,171.

And on the count of three … we jump!


Wise friends — yes, YOU! — will you sit at the rim of Scripture with my friend and I? Would you be willing to share your thoughts with my dear sister, here in the comment box, on how to jump into Scripture without fear? Our thanks!

by | November 15, 2010 | 26 comments


  1. Phoenix-Karenee

    We enter with wonder and surprise, and God always keeps it shallow enough for us not to drown, while the floor may be far, far deeper than we know. Every time we come back around, having found ourselves safe, we discover the truth we thought we knew is deeper and greater than we realized. It is always so with God, since if he were completely knowable, there would be no mystery, and if there were no mystery would it truly be God? I'd rather God be too immense for me to understand, but always ready to permit exploration, scenery not a painting.

    My answer is a three-fold assumption from which I approach every encounter.
    1. God is always good even when I can't see it.
    2. God is never surprised or overwhelmed and guarantees a good ending even in impossible situations. Not only can he make everything out of nothing, he can transform broken into whole. This is redemption.
    3. God promises redemption to those who seek it in Christ, and there is no other way to find it but by flinging ourselves, whole, into his death and glory. This trust may not look like we thought it would once it shapes real beneath our feet, but it will always be firmer than we thought it might be as well.

    Here is my most recent encounter with "deeper than I knew." If your friend cares to visit, I am glad to show here that she is not alone in being surprised by God's greatness. http://phoenix-karenee.blogspot.com/2010/11/meeting-cslewis-and-prayer.html

  2. Yaya Yarns

    This week God is calling me to go deeper and in doing so I am praying for a friend who desires to go with me. I want to be in the center of where God has called and created me to be. When I bump against the mystery that God has brought me to I know that HE will give me the wisdom to understand and obey. I praise Him that He is always with me and that He will never forsake me the desire to seek Him, draw near to Him and obey His commands. In this flesh it is not possible but by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit He will empower me, uphold me and strengthen me to do all He created me to do. I can do nothing without Him, and He will complete in me that which He begin.

    I am looking forward to all that HE is about to bring our way, am I afraid in my flesh yet excited in my spirit.

  3. Megan Willome

    You described what I love about the Bible. It's wild. It's unpredictable. It's scary at times. It's beautiful. It's frustrating. It would never, never be picked up by a Christian publisher. Too dangerous.

  4. Linda

    I almost clicked away Jennifer, because event though I cannot remember a time when I didn't know Him, I still don't have answers.
    I feel as though I have slipped back into a simpler time. I have put away – not the doubts or questions, but the demand for answers. I have come lately to child-like trust.
    I trust, as I study and read, that He is all He says He is in His word and that He will always keep His promises. When my focus is there, I find the doubts and fears diminish.
    I'm jumping in with you – always learning more.

  5. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    As much as your words here were meant for my friend, they are also for me.

    Each of you? Thank you deeply for sharing in the comment box today. (And Linda? I'm glad you didn't click away!)

  6. Dionna

    I love the fact that you have a mystery file. I'm growing to think that God doesn't mind so much our doubts…as long as we trust in Him anyways.

  7. Beth.. One Blessed Nana

    The wonderful thing about our God is that we don't have to have all the answers. He has them and will reveal them to us when and if we need them.

    I would advise your precious friend to never pick up God's Word before prayer. Pray that He will reveal what HE desires and the He give her ears to hear and the understanding she needs.

    Always remember to consider the context of the scriptures and what is taking place at the time. Also research the greek and hebrew words for clarity!

  8. Laura

    I think reading scripture is like falling in love. There are so many unknowns…what-ifs…maybes. But there is that ONE BIG ANSWER: there is LOVE. And no matter what question comes up, it will be there. That is how I take heart when I don't have the answers, Jennifer.

    A beautiful story. Thank you, friend.

  9. jaybird7

    The greatest mystery for me is why I so often resist the goodness offered through Grace dispensed by God.

  10. Andrea

    Blessings and prayers,

  11. Beth E.

    These are all such wonderful answers, and I don't think I could add any more than what's already been said.

    I'm going deeper, too, and it IS sometimes a little scary. But, God is right beside us. He'll never leave us or forsake us. And when we're afraid? We just have to reach out for His hand. 🙂

    Praying for your friend and praying for you!

  12. Connie Mace

    Regarding knowledge of scripture, I always love to think of Mary…talking to "the gardener" who calls her name…and then SHE KNOWS it's her JESUS.

    Now any pharisee could have danced circles about how much Mary knew about scripture and doctrine. She knew only ONE THING.

    She knew the Voice of her LORD when He called her name.

  13. Rebecca

    How lovely and well written. Reminds me that although I've been searching for years, I am also very young in Christ. Only six years old myself. 🙂 Now that's the kind of birthday I want to celebrate!

  14. B His Girl

    I think God is smiling at the mystery file. He's just too much to comprehend. We just nibble on His goodness and greatness. It's an appetizer of the feast to come, when the veil will be lifted. I love Jesus. Joining you two in the jump… B

  15. Lyla Lindquist

    Sorry already this will be long.

    I was just reading Psalm 149 the other morning. (I can't quote it all, my comment got too long.)

    I liked it. Humble, faithful people, drowning in praise. Singing in bed. All very cool.

    Then I read the rest. And I felt sick.

    6 May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, 7 to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, 8 to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron,
    9 to carry out the sentence written against them—this is the glory of all his faithful people.

    Praise the LORD.

    Praise in my mouth and a double-edged sword in my hand, inflicting vengeance and terror? And this is the glory of His faithful people?

    I don't like to read the Word and say "ick." But I did. It perplexed and irritated me.

    So I told Him: I'm supposed to fall into worship and praise here and quite frankly, I don't like this. I don't want that glory. Why do You always have to be like this?

    After all the blood and shackles and sword brandishing, the psalmist just says, "Oh, and by the way, Praise the Lord.


    So this is how I dive in. I don't know how not to. I have to tell Him the questions. I tell Him when it rubs me the wrong way. I tell Him when I don't get it and when I don't like it (I know, I'm not supposed to say stuff like that). And sometimes, we just wrestle it out. Sometimes I end up getting it. Usually I just end up realizing that He is some far beyond what I can get, and that it's ok.

    Psalm 149? We're still dealing on that one.

    If I ever start to think I get Him, I remind myself I've just proved I don't. He's bigger. Always.

    And that's good.

  16. Cheryl

    Can I jump with you both? Of course, you know of my fear of heights. Diving is likely the same… but I'm getting there. Yesterday I hiked in the woods with the family and even crossed two big pipes, tightrope style. Of course they were barely two feet off the ground, but I did it. Today, I went on a hike all by myself (well, with the dog).

    It's a slow process, diving in.

  17. Stephani

    It sounds like your friend has been reading Isaiah! I participate in Bible Study Fellowship and this year we are studying Isaiah. I just read the passage about the sweeping broom this week. One thing that is evident in the book of Isaiah is that God's wrath is always tempered with his mercy and grace.

  18. alicia

    It is scary- sometimes we just don't want to know what He's going to say- we're afraid of disappointing our new love. The beauty of it is that His love never leaves us, and the more you read, the more you realize that GOD is the ONLY one that is constant and the only one in whom you can put all of your faith and trust. You can give HIM your heart- and He will not break it.

  19. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    I am excited to share the comment box with my friend today. God bless each of you for your words here.

    Stephani — Yes, my friend is in Isaiah.

    And Lyla??? You always have the right words for me. I'd like to tuck you in my pocket and take you to the retreat next time, so I could pull you out when I need answers — and a good laugh. Except you're kinda tall. 🙂

  20. patty

    Lyla, Lyla, Lyla…we seriously need to meet.

  21. Nancy

    I'm one of those gray-haired old believers who has had the privilege of being immersed in scripture for as long as I can remember. And yet. I often feel like I am in Bible kindergarten, reading familiar passages and seeing things there as if for the very first time. And then I am reminded of very familiar scripture–The Word of God is living and active. It's true! No matter where you or your sweet friend dive in, God will honor the prayer of a heart who wants to meet Him there. Also, it has taken me many, many, lo…way too many years to recognize the important work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating scripture. I can read words all day long, but unless the Spirit breathes life into them, they don't speak to me. Still, there is value in just reading the stuff that doesn't make sense–it's like learning your way around a new neighborhood. Be blessed, both of you.

  22. Lyla Lindquist

    Jennifer, hook us up.

    Patty has coffee.

  23. Robin

    WOW!!! Thank you so much for allowing God to use you in revealing the answer!! He is my life preserver (thanks for the analogy). He will keep this little rug rat afloat as the swim through Isaiah continues; the fear of drowning is gone!! Also, a big shout out of THANKS to the vessels on your blog echoing His encouraging words!!!

  24. Kathleen

    My Presbyterian Women's circle began our study of Revelations this fall and I was really nervous about it. I had never really read much of revelations because it was the "scary" book at the end of the Bible. As bible leader for my circle group, I needed to go ahead and begin but I was just scared so I went to my pastor about it. She kept telling me that it's a book of hope and to just dive in and I would see. So when I began reading about Paul on the ground cowering as this being with fire in his eyes and a two edged sword from his mouth came down to him, I almost slammed the book closed. I thought to myself, "This is certainly not the hopeful book Katherine had promised!" but I kept reading. And the first words out of the being (Jesus) mouth were "Do not be afraid". And that's it. That is the answer. God/Jesus are magnificent, awesome, powerful beings but He/They, love us very much and don't want us to be afraid. I always end up going back to the verses in one of the letters (I can quote scripture, I just don't always remember where it came from) lucky are we to be called children of God! And like any good Father, he is going to take care of us so that 'without his will, not a hair on my head can be touched.'

    I love this blog! Thank you for writing it!

  25. Jennifer

    I've been in Habakkuk the past few weeks–I've learned it's ok to question and not understand God. Jeremiah questions God. But at the end of Habakkuk, he says he'll live by faith, no matter what comes because he knows God's character is trustworthy, even if incomprehensible. Those words–good to stand on when He doesn't make sense.

  26. Missy

    I love this post. LOVE it.

    This is precisely where I am right now. I am doing 2 different Beth Moore studies right now and they both are leading to Revelation. I have yet to have opened that book in the bible because it scares. But I am now being forced to go there.
    I know I am protected by my Lord, but it is still a scary place to think about.

    Thank you for showing us that we need to have the courage to just "jump."


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