Wait! I Don't Get It!
"They didn't understand what he was saying, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant."
Before I provide context for this oh-so-relatable quotation, let's put ourselves between the lines for a moment. Let's seat ourselves in the lecture hall or at the feet of a teacher and ask how many times we've been too afraid to raise our hands and say, "Wait! I don't get it!"
Now, I know this has been me. I've been the student sweating in my seat, totally lost and totally not going to be the one to expose my ignorance, willing instead to take the hit of not knowing. I can't recommend that position to anyone. But maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself.
After all, Jesus' disciples were there first.
The above quotation is a passage from Mark 9:32. The teacher was Jesus, and true to form, the disciples were struggling to understand what they were being told. In all fairness, Jesus' teachings were challenging: they were heavily symbolic, radical, unexpected and sometimes downright ambiguous. So why didn't they ask more questions?
Well. Why don't we?
One of my professors has a little tradition he calls the "examen"—a brainchild of a saint whose name I can't remember and a lovely little bookend to our classes. Twice a week after lectures, my professor enforces two minutes of reflection and prayer. Laptops close. Fidgeting stills. In the silence, a hundred students bow their heads and make contact with our Creator.
First, we thank God for the aspects of the day's lesson that we found particularly encouraging or interesting. Then, we bring to God any aspects of the lesson that met with resistance in our hearts. It's an opportunity to acknowledge our frustration with parts of Scripture we may not understand; it's also an opportunity to surrender those feelings and ask for clarity where God deems it necessary.
The essential practice here is what Jesus' disciples missed when they hid their concerns instead of speaking up. We are permitted to come to God with our questions. We are called—no, invited to approach the Father not only with daily struggles but spiritual frustrations, pieces of Scripture that don't click in our minds, questions that seem to lack answers. Too often, I think Christians assume that to wrestle with Scripture is to commit an egregious sin. That is simply not the case, and the fact that the Bible is full of faithful heroes who cry out to God for clarity is proof that faith and frustration are not mutually exclusive.
God does not expect us to parse Scripture on the steam of our own intelligence. He doesn't expect us to find Scripture easy—why would He? It isn't easy. It demands careful study. It challenges us to wrestle with aspects of history. It tests our confidence in the fires of inner conflict. But it also transforms and guides us toward a Truth so grand that our puny little minds can't possibly wrap around it. And it is truly good.
God is also there to meet us. His Holy Spirit is there to help us parse and interpret. Jesus is there in blood-red ink to give meaning to this story when we lose sight of it. The disciples at the feet of Jesus were afraid to ask for clarity, but we don't have to be: God may not reveal all the answers, but He will bless a heart that seeks to know Him more and He never leaves us with less clarity than we need.