Does The Bible Really Have All The Answers?


Recently I heard yet again someone iterate (to iterate again being to reiterate, which is a noxious thing to do) a certain tiresome notion that circulates and circulates in perpetuum mobile and ad, dare I say it, nauseum. The notion is this: that "the Bible has ALL THE ANSWERS". 

Many are those who make this claim, but, to be fair, few are they who actually argue that on its face. They are not claiming that the Bible has the answer to the question of how to prepare baked beans. But they are saying that the Bible has all the answers to all the questions that matter.

Unfortunately this ends up being circular (as a notion that circulates and circulates in perpetuum mobile and ad, dare I say it, nauseum) and dangerous. The questions that matter end up being defined as the questions that the Bible answers. If it's not answered in Scripture, it's not important. Life and death and eternity and whatnot. What else is there?

But answers are not salvation. Answers are not salvations. Now, an answer, one individual answer, might be a salvation, a single instance of salvation. I sought the Lord and he answered me, he delivered me from all my fears. But an answer itself doesn't do much. What matters are the agents in the conversation.

Salvation is personal. It's a thing that a personal God does. While it's not incorrect to say that Jesus is salvation, it is utterly true and beautiful to say that Jesus saves. It is more true. Jesus verbs, y'all, he doesn't substantive. Because God is a person. The Bible is about salvation. It is not about answers.

As for the salvation of God itself, it is full and complete. But it is not an answer. Or rather, it is only an answer when the plight of man is phrased as a question. But only in the abstractest and most philosophical of senses is the plight of man a question. The plight of man and the state of the world are things, res into the media of which he descends and acts.


Who cares, then, if the Bible has ALL THE ANSWERS? Well, who in our day-to-day wants to know ALL THE ANSWERS? Busybodies. Know-it-alls. The insecure and the power-hungry. To seek after all the answers is to not trust. It is to run along Chesterton's narrow circle, and it is dangerous.

It must be that God has all the answers. All things are made and sustained by him. But one of the answers that the Bible gives us is that God doesn't always answer us. God therefore does not have all the answers for us. How much less will the Bible? Even if God were to have poured "all the answers" (what might that even mean?!) into the Bible, the Bible would never answer, just as the Bible never saves. The Bible is...wait for it...a book. The Book, yes. But the Book is a book.

It is God who answers. God who saves. This agency is vital. This verb versus noun thing is integral to our thinking about God and his salvation. 

I am a proud historical Protestant. Let me tell you a sad story about certain historical Protestants who went to New England.

Many of these my spiritual ancestors referred to God as Providence. This, although it took generations, sealed their eventual unfaithfulness: God is not an urge. Christians began referring to God's Providence, and capitalizing it at that, instead of saying "God provided such and such". God's Providence became simply Providence. Eventually those who used Providence became unitarians and even Unitarians. Providence cannot act. Providence simply is. And just like that, God becomes a demiurge. And who, after all, is Jesus?

This, ultimately, is the danger of talking about answers as a goal of knowing God and his revealed Scriptures: that we might make of God a thing, and therefore an idol. Providence became an idol, and one day ceased even to look like the God we'd claimed to worship. Might God one day be known simple as The Answer? The people who had said "God answers" begin to say "God's answers". Perhaps they even capitalize it. Then we adopt the shorthand, and begin to refer to God simply by the name of the only attribute of his that we love: The Answer. 

And all of a sudden God has become Allen Iverson. Let us inaugurate a glorious age of basketball nicknames for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God is The Answer. He is The Truth. The is The Process.

A heretic's catechism:

Q.: What doth the Bible principally teach?
A.: All the answers.

Q.: What is the Bible?
A.: All the answers, given to us by God.

Q.: Why hath God given us All The Answers?
A.: Because he is The Answer.

When I sought God he answered me, as David in Psalm 34. But why was I seeking him? To be saved. And how did he answer me? By delivering me.

Here is a most non-exhaustive list of verbs God verbs when he saves us: to save, to guard, to keep, to preserve, to protect, to shield, to deliver, to redeem, to ransom, to reach, to hold, to hide, to care for. God's answers save, yes, but at a remove, through intermediaries. God answers to save. Answering has a point, and it is the point that matters.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
    O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive    
    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.
The Christian faith is a relationship, and the Bible is the story of that relationship. But it doesn't even have all the story. God saves his bride from the Dragon and takes her home to wed her; you've heard that one, right? But did you know that I know a version of that story that includes the adventures of a 6'9" Brazilian-American? I'm just not sure how it ends yet.

Of course, and again, the Bible does indeed have a lot of answers to a lot of questions. Many of those answers are found in the book of Proverbs. But if were to count with so many beans how many answers and how much wisdom is to be found in that book, I am confident the pile of Wisdom beans would weigh way more than the pile of Answer beans. And that, perhaps, is our first step. To talk not of the answers Scripture holds, but of the Wisdom. Word has it Wisdom is personal, and perhaps even infinite. Just saying.

Come, Lord Jesus. And meanwhile, thank you for your holy revealed Word. Please feed us by your Scriptures. We thank you for your Holy Spirit with us, and ask for your mercy.

Comments

  1. Given I am familiar with G.K. Chesterton and his works, what does "Chesterton's narrow circle" relate to?

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    1. Chesterton describes insanity as a narrow circle in the beginning of Orthodoxy. It's consistent, it makes sense, you can run along it eternally, but in the end, it's narrow and closed.

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    2. Ah, thank you. For me, that puts your post in a clearer light, since I can frame it in the context of Chesterton's notion that mysticism keeps men sane. Those seeking answers, or The Answer, fall into a kind of materialistic trap, by disallowing the riddles of God, which, as he also said, were "more satisfying than the answers of Man."
      I've tried before to explain this concept to a friend of mine, a non-Christian, an engineer, to no avail. I mentioned Chesteron's imagery of the "poet popping his head into the heavens and floating on an infinite sea," whereas "the logician tries to fit infinity into his head, but it's his head that cracks." As a rationalist in the extreme, he was convinced that efforts to comprehend and apprehend infinity were merely sensical, and that my notion of mysticism simply stopped all questioning.

      I can only hope that the Holy Spirit will win in him the stereoscopic vision of the mystic.

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    3. Even an engineer may be saved...

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    4. Civil Engineer, saved by grace.

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