A Curious Faith, Lore Ferguson Wilbert (Foreword by Seth Haines). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022.
Summary: A book about the questions God asks, we ask, and those we wish we were asked, all with the message of living the questions and not hastily grasping for answers.
There is a strong and deeply embedded streak within me to want to have the answer to any question. Perhaps it came from being the class nerd, somewhat overweight, who compensated for his lack of athleticism with being a good student. Later, as a young follower of Christ, it seemed to be important to answer the questions my friends who didn’t believe would ask. Yet I began to notice that my “answers” didn’t reach to the heart of my friends’ questions. Then midlife hit, and deeply painful life junctures and I became aware that the answers weren’t reaching to the heart of my questions. And because the questions were existential ones like, “does my life really matter?” and “does God really care?”, they mattered, and I began to learn that living the questions rather than hastening to answers that really didn’t work was vital. Those questions laid bare what was in me and awakened in me my longing for God, not as an answer, but One to be known.
That journey is one Lore Ferguson Wilbert traces in her own life. The book opens with epigraphs from Madeleine L’Engle and Rainer Maria Wilke about living the questions. Wilbert traces her own journey from certitudes to questions, finding a church that loved her despite all her questions, living them with her. What is most striking though is that in three parts she explores the questions we find in scripture: The questions God asks of people, the questions we ask of God, and the questions we wish someone would ask of us, the questions asked by Jesus during his ministry.
The chapters (32 in all) are short, allowing readers to pause and sit with the questions and reflections and consider where these might connect with the questions they are living in their own lives. One chapter I appreciated was God’s question to Moses: “What is in your hand?” Wilbert observes: “When God asks what is in Moses’s hand, the staff in his hand is there because so many things have just gone wrong in Moses life.” She sees in that staff all our failures in life and then moves to consider what that staff in his hand came to mean as Moses shepherded God’s people. She considers the question Jesus asks the woman caught in adultery, “Who condemns you?”, and reflects on how often we have a condemning voice in our head and think ourselves utter failures at being good Christians when Jesus’ first concern for the woman is that she be safe and know that no one condemns her–only then is she or any of us free to refrain from sinning.
The invitation throughout is to be curious. To sit with questions, to keep questioning, to bring our questions to God, opening ourselves to God. Her curiosity sometimes leads her to ask a raft of questions in some of the chapters and this perhaps can be overwhelming. Sometimes, a single good question is enough. She urges us to not be hasty to grasp at answers that are too small for our questions. In various ways she holds out the hope that there is really one Answer, and to wait for Him and to allow his questions and ours to take us on that journey to Him, however that comes to pass.
I thought her most profound chapter the one on “The Unasked Questions” where she describes the Tenebrae service that ends with the cry, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” followed by all lights extinguished. Sometimes we don’t even know the questions to ask, we live a kind of death, as we await the coming of light, and life. Only what has died may be raised.
This is an uncomfortable book. But there are many living with uncomfortable questions. To them, this book is a kind of balm, that encourages them to keep living them. They are questions that matter, questions that break us open to God, questions that lead us to far more than just “answers.” Often such people are thought to have lost their way. This book proposes that a curious faith that lives the questions is the only way to find one’s way.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.