The Art of Answer-izing
A month ago, I challenged our NorthPark bloggers to choose any hot button issue and write on it from a perspective of Jesus’ love, mission, and ministry.
All of our bloggers took on the task and composed engaging, thoughtful, well-written blogs with their particular understanding of the gospel. Thanks Kelly, Liz, and Tom!
Unfortunately, this is about as rare as a late season Texas Ranger victory. Most of the time what we hear from preachers and politicians alike is not engaging answers but answer-izing.
Answer-izing is when someone else does not honestly respond to or directly answer a question, but selects a ready-made answer from a long list of previously prepared possibilities and then makes that answer fit the situation.
I do it all the time at my house. My children can ask a plethora of different questions, and I am very good at giving this canned response: "Go ask your mother."
In the Bible Job’s friends were experts at answer-izing. When they heard of Job’s great misery, at first they came and sat with him for seven days and seven nights, and did not say a word. When they were no longer able to tolerate the complexity of his pain and suffering they began offering answers to questions Job wasn’t even asking.
Job asked a question about God’s justice, but his friends answered by talking about Job’s sin. Job asked, “Why is God doing this to me? His friends answered, “What have you done to deserve it?” They were answer-izing, giving a pre-scripted answer that didn’t fit his question.
Answer-izing happens in political circles all the time. Republicans and Democrats, as well as TV pundits and even news anchors, do not listen in order to answer a question but to get air time for their talking points.
I can remember a few years ago listening to the congressional hearings regarding the BP oil spill. No matter what the question BP officials were asked, the answers given seemed to fit one of three categories. Either: A) “I don’t recall,” B) “I can’t remember”, or C) “I wasn’t involved in the action.” This prompted one lawmaker to sarcastically ask the BP official if he could confirm that the day of the week was actually Thursday.
Answer-izing happens in the church, too. Someone asks a tough question ‒ something they’ve been struggling with for a long time ‒ and invariably someone responds with a pat answer. Someone may ask, “Where is God when we face threats of terror?” And without pausing for a breath someone may reply “Jesus is the answer!”
They want to make Jesus the answer no matter what the question is! But the questions that tap into our mortality, our pain, our fear, these are questions that arise from the immeasurable darkness and mystery of our lives, and they deserve more than mere answer-izing.
These kind of questions require us to listen and speak with one another in ways that acknowledge the complexity of our lives and the incompleteness of our answers.
Have you ever noticed how slow Jesus was to answer the questions people put to him? He always spoke with candor when he spoke, but he was often circumspect and occasionally downright reticent to speak at all.
Sometimes Jesus refused to say anything. When Pontius Pilate interrogated him, Jesus gave no answer. When the Canaanite woman pleaded with him for her daughter, at first he answered her not a word.
Sometimes Jesus was strikingly terse, responding with a word or short phrase, and boldly criticized the religious leaders for their long and repetitive prayers.
Sometimes Jesus answered a question with a question of his own. When the rich young ruler asked him what he must do to be saved, Jesus replied: “How do you read the law? What do you think is the answer?”
Sometimes Jesus said a great deal about a subject we’d just as soon he hadn’t brought up, but remained silent on another subject we wish he had addressed. He spoke often for example about the danger of having too much money, but he said nothing at all about homosexuality.
What’s more, Jesus said of himself, “I am the way.” The way to get from Point Alpha to Point Omega. According to the book of Acts, Jesus followers before they were called Christians were actually called “the people of the way.”
This reminds us that the life of discipleship is not a product so much as a process; not a final destination but a never-ending journey. Discipleship is not geometry. The journey between A and Z, between alpha and omega, is never straight. In life, just when we think we’re on a smooth stretch of road, suddenly there’s a sharp curve ahead, or maybe it’s a tedious detour or maybe it’s a bad accident. And just when we think we’ve found an answer that explains everything ‒ suddenly we realize the answer leads us to another, deeper round of questions.
Rather than holding to one predetermined correct answer, we need to open our minds and hearts to the questions that grow up out of the mystery of life. In short, we don’t have to answer-ize but instead can love the questions and the journey they take us on.