E-pistle March 18

When “I don’t know” is the right answer

When I was pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Menominee, Michigan (north of Green Bay in the UP), I taught confirmation class to our seventh and eighth graders every Wednesday afternoon.  The Lutherans owned the town and so we did things their way.  Wednesday was “church day” and the schools were pretty good about obeying the rule – no extra-curricular activities on church day.  All the Lutheran kids trudged off to confirmation class after school on Wednesdays, and the Presbyterians followed suit.

One of the rules of the class was that “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.  That is, you can’t say, “I don’t know” when asked how school went that day or “I don’t know” if someone wondered if you like ice fishing with your dad.  And you couldn’t say “I don’t know” when asked “What is the chief end of man?” If there’s one thing those junior high aged Presbyterians in that Lutheran town in the UP should have known, it is that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

When you’re trying to get a sluggard of an eighth grade boy to express himself – a thought, an idea, an opinion – “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.  When you’re hoping that a seventh grade girl will put words to that good thought you know she’s thinking, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

I’ve kept track of a few of the kids with whom I spent my Wednesday afternoons in Menominee.  We left the UP thirteen years ago, so they’re all adult now. Some have navigated those waters to adulthood quite successfully and a some have run aground – yet to see if they will make it or not.  I’m hoping, though, that most of them, if you pushed for an answer, would remember that their chief end in life is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever (even if they’re not quite on track with the project right now).  And I hope they’d remember that, most of the time, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

But there are times when “I don’t know” is not only an acceptable answer, but the right answer.

This week “I don’t know” has been a good answer.  This week all of us have watched unthinkable natural disaster befall a whole nation and it seems as if there is nothing the watching world can do. We have seen a ruthless dictator unleash the arsenal of modern warfare on his own people while the watching world only belatedly responds. This week some in the LPC family been close by while those they love, or maybe themselves, have been hit by loss and hurt and confusion and doubt.

Whether we watch the slow-motion unfolding of a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan or the inconsolable grief of one we love, we want to ask ourselves and our faithful friends, “Why? Why is God allowing this?”

“I don’t know,” is a good answer.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

But there are other questions besides “why?”  Like “where is God?” and “what is God doing?” There are answers we can know with certainty:

  • God is still at work: In all things – even earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear catastrophe – he is at work for good. (Romans 8:28).
  • God is faithful: When this morning’s news seems more discouraging than yesterday’s, still the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-24).
  • God is sovereign and good: When all I hoped for seems to be lost, hope is not. God has plans that will not be thwarted. (Jeremiah 29:11).

In light of this week’s headlines and the reality of our lives, might I really glorify God and enjoy him forever?  The answer need not be “I don’t know.” It can be a strong a resolute “yes!” Not because I know all the other answers, but because in Jesus Christ God has answered the question, “Do you love me?” with the “yes” of the gift of his son.