Trivial pursuits

GOT QUESTIONS: We seek wisdom, not just answers

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How many hearts does an octopus have? Who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize? What is the world’s smallest country?

We live in the age of trivia. From pub quiz nights to elementary spelling bees, we in North America like to ask one-response questions related to all aspects of life. Our culture puts great importance in knowing the answer and relaying it quickly. People get rewarded for memorizing sports statistics, the correct spelling of scientific words and the names of all the extended relatives in Jane Austen novels. We, in turn, learn random information over a broad selection of topics and hope someone will ask us the specific dimensions of the Tabernacle altar.

Here lies the problem: most of the questions being asked within our faith communities are not trivial. On top of that, many of these inquiries don’t boil down to a single answer. These complicated questions can’t always be answered like Jeopardy. (“What is five cubits by three cubits.”)  Instead, they require prayerful consideration, deeper conversation and a willingness to come to a different conclusion than what was expected. In other words, we are looking for wisdom.

Theologian Peter Enns states it well in his book How the Bible Actually Works, “Seeking wisdom rather than grabbing for answers is what this life of faith is about.” But what does it look like to seek wisdom?

Jesus is asked a lot of questions by a lot of people in the Gospels, most of them grabbing for answers. On one such occasion recorded in Luke 10:25-37 (NLT), an expert in the law—someone whose job it is to know answers—sets up a pop quiz for Jesus. He asks, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus does not respond with the quick, correct answer but poses his own inquiry. “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

Reciting the Torah, the man replies, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus acknowledges the man grabbed the correct answer. The expert does in fact know his law.

The man continues. He is seeking wisdom when he asks Jesus his next question, “And who is my neighbor?”

Again, Jesus foregoes a quick answer and responds instead with a story. He tells about a traveler, beaten and left on the side of the road, who encounters three people walking that way. Two people ignore the man in peril; one—“a despised Samaritan”—stops and provides care. The expert listens as Jesus expands the common definition of neighbor. The expert is given something even better than an easy answer; he is given the chance to discern and to find wisdom. And that is true for all of us who are following Jesus.

As we take time to sit with questions and resist the temptation to immediately respond with trivial answers, may we seek God’s wisdom and experience joy in the process. Scripture encourages us forward, reminding readers, “Happy is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding.” (Prov. 3:13)

What questions are being asked in your church community right now? How are you seeking God’s wisdom? I would love to hear more about your experience. Send me an e-mail at gotquestions@usmb.org

In case you need them for your next trivia night: three, Marie Curie and Vatican City.

 

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