Living the questions

Rainer Maria Rilke writes: “… try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

On Sunday we reflected on that famous trifecta of promises from Jesus: “Ask, and you shall receive. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and the door shall be opened to you.” Both during the service and over the meal, people observed that, whatever we ask and wherever we seek, the answer always seems to be the same. Q: Why do good people suffer? A: God is with you // Q: What should I do with my life? A: God is with you // Q: What is love? A: God is with you // Q: Does God exist? A: God is with you!

We see this too in the strange and wonderful Book of Job. Job’s pious friends say all the right things. Job, on the other hand, questions his lot, criticises what he sees as God’s justice, and demands an answer from God: not the sort of behaviour pious people endorse. And yet it is not Job’s friends but Job who encounters God and hears God’s declaration. God doesn’t answer Job’s questions: and yet God answers Job. And Job is overwhelmed.

Orthodoxy is usually understood as ‘right belief’, that is, believing the right things; but Peter Rollins suggests orthodoxy is better understood as ‘believing in the right way,’ that is, believing or trusting in a way which is ‘loving, sacrificial and Christlike.’ Then faith is not about answers, creeds or dogma, but instead is revealed in a life lived in love.

Perhaps this is what Rilke was alluding to by suggesting we may not be able to live the answers now. Perhaps we cannot yet open our eyes to God’s overwhelming presence; perhaps we do not yet trust in the right way; perhaps our hearts have not yet cracked open to truly receive and pour out love. And yet perhaps, simply by living the questions, the Holy Spirit will slowly form us into a people more capable of love and trust: a people who realise they’ve been held by the Answer all along.

So, what are your questions? How do you live into them? And are they questions we can live into together? If so, why not drop a line to the regular attenders, or, if you are a member of the Shalom group, perhaps you could raise it there.


Emailed to Sanctuary 31 July 2019 © Sanctuary, 2019. Image credit: Rochelle Nicole on Unsplash. Observations from Peter Rollins’s excellent and thought-provoking book, “How (Not) to Speak of God”. I can’t remember where I found the Rilke quote.

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