Of Questions, Quests, and Jewishness
So I figure we’ve got a good thing going with the etymology kick. Let’s keep dipping into the well of http://www.etymonline.com/.
‘Question’ comes from the Latin quæstionem, meaning “a seeking, an inquiry.” The root of quæstionem is quærere, from where we get ‘query,’ and means ‘to gain, to ask.’ ‘Quest’ comes from the same Latin parents, but picks up an edgy sense of adventure in the 14th Century.
I think asking theological questions is an adventure, is a quest, of sorts. A regular Indiana Jones-esque pursuit, when you think about it. Lots of unexpecteds, a high dose of risk, and no small amount of thrill (yes, I know I have a low fun-threshold).
No guarantees on the romance.
A good friend and mentor of mine, Murray Haar, teaches me much from his Jewish tradition. Two nuggets I’ll pass your way on this winter evening.
First, he says that Christians are not just a bit anxious about questions.
Jews believe that wrangling about and with God, asking the questions, is sacred. It’s what you do when you are in relationship with God.
Christians, he maintains, get jumpy about them. We’re almost allergic to them. What happens if you ask a really good question? You might doubt! You might disbelieve! And what happens if in that very moment, you die?
I think he’s right.
And it’s not just a matter of what happens when you die, but who are you? What is your identity if you aren’t sure that you believe that Jesus is the Christ?
Even those of us from theological traditions sort of figure that we have the corner on the grace market really, in the end, aren’t so sure. For if we did, we’d don our Indiana Jones hats, put on our boots, and go. Whenever we’d get a chance.
Instead, I think we’re quite content to talk about faith and trust and Scripture and belief in God and act like we know what those naturally mean.
My daughter Else (pronounced Elsa) loves questions. Even at 5, she was asking the questions. For a while she loved to hear the story of Jesus every night before she went to sleep. So one night, after telling her (for truly the I-can’t-count-that-highteenth time) all about the women finding an empty tomb, and then learning that Jesus was actually alive again, and wasn’t that a wonderful way to fall asleep, knowing that life wins, that Jesus is stronger than death in the end, Elsegirl looked at me.
“Mommy,” she said slowly, “why didn’t the soldiers kill Jesus the second time that he was alive?”
“Wow, baby girl,” I said. “I spend most of my non-Mommy time thinking about God. It’s what I do. And I wonder about God a lot lot lot. And that is one question I have never wondered about, and now I am going to wonder it. A lot lot lot.”
Second Murray thought for the evening. After yeshiva, his school as a young boy, Murray knew the evening question would not be “What did you learn today?” but rather “Did you ask any good questions today?”
That’s cool. It’s a habit I now use with my children.
And one I share with you tonight.
What good questions have you asked lately?