Becoming okay with the ‘grey’
Life is full of unknowns.
From planning for the year ahead, to figuring out what you want to do with your life, adulting has never been straight forward. So when it comes to the ever-sticky subject of faith, we go through the same process of grappling with the unknown.
Sometimes we assume that the people who believe do so because all their questions about the world have been answered. There are some things that elude even the smartest or well-versed person in the room. Personally, I’ve never stopped asking ‘why’ since I started this process, and some of those questions have been answered and others are still in the process of being figured out.
Too often we deprive ourselves of what life has to offer in exchange for complete certainty, but the truth is — life is part mystery, part revelation and living in the space ‘some answered’ and ‘some unanswered’ doesn’t make you wrong:
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. — 1 Corinthians 13:9–12
Take one of the earliest leaders in the Bible, Gideon.
Gideon was picked, pretty much out of the blue, to one of the earliest leaders in Israel in Judges chapter six. From day one he didn’t feel right for the job, so he didn’t resist challenging God with the difficult questions.
“Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah […] and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.” — Judges 6:11–13
There’s a lot of indignation, disillusionment and disappointment in Gideon’s response.
Why do bad things happen to undeserving people?
We’ve been following God all this time, so why hasn’t life been easy?
These sound like questions I have asked, and maybe you have asked similar ones too. While many might expect Gideon to be ‘smote’ by the angry Old Testament God that people imagine, something different takes place:
“Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”
While it’s not a direct answer to all his questions (yet), it’s an invitation for Gideon to completely change his outlook. He expected that God would reach down from heaven and rescue them, but God highlights that whatever Gideon has right now, is enough to do the job.
Sometimes we focus so much on the minutiae that we miss the bigger picture.
When you bring your questions to God through your own exploration of the Bible and prayer you’re likely to get more clarity than debating someone else. More often than not, other people struggle to fully answer these lofty life questions.
By getting Gideon to think about the bigger picture, we start to see just how much a valuable part he has to play, no matter how little he thought he had to offer. And in this case, Gideon felt like he didn’t have much to offer, so he asked again:
“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”
The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”
Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”
He answered, “I will stay here until you return.” — Judges 6
Again, God meets Gideon right where he is, questions and all. He demonstrates to Gideon in a way that Gideon understands, that it really is God speaking to him and he’s not going crazy. And as those answers start to come in Gideon gains a little bit more confidence.
A little bit.
Immediately after his questions have been answered, he still asks for more:
“If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, prove it to me in this way.” — verse 36
“Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request.” — verse 39
At this point, it’s easy for anyone to become impatient with his consistent questioning, insecurity and doubt. But even this point, God still ‘shows up’ for Gideon, building up his confidence to take the next critical step. Our story may not look exactly like this in terms of wars and wool fleeces (I’d encourage you to read the full story here), we may have different questions that require different answers or ‘signs’, and sometimes those are obvious and sometimes they are not. But the principle remains the same, without the question, there is no answer.
Whatever our curiosity, doubts and questions may looks like, it’s reassuring to know that we are not ‘wrong’ for having them. God can handle it, and I suspect he welcomes it — better to ask and clarify, than to live in silent confusion, right?
Becoming okay with the ‘grey’
Too often we let these questions create a barrier between where we are and where we want to be. Our questions overshadow everything else and paralyse us from making a move. They begin to punch fatal holes in our theories and our belief systems, because we think the two cannot peacefully co-exist.
But maybe they can.
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” — Mark 9:24
I love how honest and real this statement is. In this story, a father believed in Jesus enough to ask him to heal his son, but still struggled with the prospect of the healing actually taking place. How many times have you believed in something, but still struggled with believing? The paradox is uncomfortable, but it’s also part of the process. But we see with this father and with Gideon, God was there to walk them through their grey areas — not to attack, condemn or punish them for it.
After all, you can’t get to the answer unless you wrestle with the question, right?
Maybe it’s okay to question
Contrary to what many of us heard growing up, maybe you can ask God questions. Questioning is a part of life that we should explore and uncover — not run from. Questions are critical trigger points that help us evolve further into the person we need to be, just like Gideon, who continued to lead Israel successfully.
It is God’s privilege to conceal things
and the king’s privilege to discover them. — Proverbs 25:2
Even where Gideon’s fears and uncertainties were unspoken, God answered those too:
“But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.” […]
Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his companion about a dream. The man said, “I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!”
His companion answered, “Your dream can mean only one thing — God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!”
Whether it’s disappointment or imposter syndrome like Gideon, or some other reason, God is aware of our questions and what we struggle with. But it’s up to us to bring them to the table. It’s up to us to go through the process of finding answers and furthering our understanding. When you recognise that there is space for both your faith AND your questions, you will stop feeling pressured to ‘pick one side’.
So spacious is [God], so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe — people and things, animals and atoms — get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies — Colossians 1:18–20
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