“Do you still beat your wife Mr Jones – yes or no?” Such a question – or a variation of it, is a favourite of the sly lawyer in the courtroom. I have stood in enough of them to know! Of course it’s a trap from which Mr Jones cannot escape – if he answers yes – he has incriminated himself beyond redemption – and if he says no he is implying that he once did.
But it is not only in the courtroom we find such behaviour – we all like black and white answers to our questions despite the fact that we too can be as manipulative in using them as the sly lawyer.
I was brought up with black and white religion – and to this day find it difficult to accept that we actually inhabit a sphere that is often multiple shades of gray. To a degree I admire “black and white people” [metaphorically speaking of course] – they have, or at least on the surface appear to have, a certainly about things I don’t.
I remember a couple of years ago now hearing an interview between an author I admired and a conservative evangelical interviewer. At the time the author was being accused of becoming “gray” in is theology. The problem with him was he would not give straight “yes” or “no” answers! The interviewer grew steadily more frustrated with him – and to be honest so did I. He simply would not confirm which religious box he now inhabited – if any. As a result he eventually lost most of his credibility in the evangelical world.
More recently I have come to the conclusion that the religious people of Jesus day viewed him in exactly the same way! Rarely if ever did he give a straightforward answer – especially to religious people. Take the simple question some religious experts sent their disciples to ask Jesus. Of course as with all good trick questions a little flattery comes first –
“Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Matthew 22 (MSG)
Great question – and it deserved a straight, unambiguous answers – “yes” or “no”. But, unlike the unfortunate Mr Jones, the annoying Jesus did not give them one! And on at least a further 29 recorded occasions Jesus answers a question with another question – and on other occassions with a story.
Imagine for a moment a person going to see a Minister, Priest or Pastor with some questions about the Christian faith – only for them to be sent away with more questions than they came with! I don’t think they would last long in their leadership role! And yet that is exactly what Jesus did! Come to think of it I suspect Jesus would not last long in most churches either!
So what is the point of the ambiguous, some might even say – evasive answers Jesus so often gives? Or is that in fact what they are – or is there not something else – something deeper going on?
Some might have heard the story of the husband and wife sitting in church listening to a preacher one day when the wife turned to her husband and asked – “Is that what we believe dear?” Precisely! I think Jesus wants us to discover who He is, what He is about and where He is coming from for ourselves – and that means enquiry, probing, thinking, facing the ambiguity, seeking the meaning in the story – perhaps at multiple levels. Sadly in the western world we are not very good at that – we still want all the boxes ticked – all the punctuation correct and very clear and concise “yes” or “no” answers. Otherwise we will just check out. If that is where you are – I am very sorry but it simply won’t do.
Near the beginning of the Jewish scriptures a principal is revealed that still holds good –
“If you search for him [God] with all your heart and soul, you will find him.”
To search involves hard work, commitment, frustration, sometimes dead ends, rough roads, misunderstanding, confusion – but the The Treasure in the field is well worth it! But here again there is ambiguity – because even after having found The Treasure – the game of hide and seek continues! Why? Because essentially it is, I believe, a love story! A quote I came across some years ago from A.W. Tozer is, I think, apt here –
“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love.”
I suspect that if we cannot live with some degree of ambiguity, mystery, seeking, uncertainty and awe – then the road of faith will be rather boring and predictable – to say nothing about the things we will miss along the way. And if it is a love story as I suggest, all of these things will be present – for that, as far as I can see is the way of love.