I just thought that I would have more of life figured out by now, after 30 years in ministry. Maybe I know more than I realize. But it seems like I have more questions than ever. In fact some of the things I once knew, I don’t really know anymore. The more I study the Bible, the more depth and nuance I find.
What happens when a person dies? Does a Christian immediately go to heaven? Then what happens at the final Resurrection? Does that usher in the kingdom of heaven? What about all the visions of heaven that speak of heaven on earth? Isn’t there some final authority on end times? Doesn’t anybody have it all figured out? Who is actually going to be in heaven? Isn’t this earth going to be discarded?
At this point in ministry, I expected to be in a suburban church, a pastor of some sort, working in a well-oiled machine of ministry. We would have answers to all the questions. We would have discipleship programs for all ages and interests. We would take care of the needy, in a sanitized way of course. We would knock on doors and find people hungry for the good news, ready to join us. They would come to our VBS, our Christmas programs, our Easter shows. They would pray the right prayers at the right times to get right with God through Jesus. They would get baptized and invite their friends to plug into our ministry. They would all live nice, happy, Christian lives and smile at their neighbors.
My training never prepared me for a life of unanswered questions. I learned how a normal church should run. But there are no normal churches anywhere. Only churches with problems. Some problems and churches are bigger than others. Problems must be addressed right away, and then church will be right and normal again. But “normal” is fiction.
Life is deeper than I knew. There are grey areas. There are good questions without definitive answers. There are people who will challenge my assumptions. Even my role models and gurus don’t have all the answers. Life is mysterious, much more so than I ever knew.
Maybe that’s the big surprise: the more I try to figure out life, the more mysterious it becomes. I thought by now I would have fewer questions. I thought that I understood life years ago. Now I see that I don’t. While my understanding grows, the mystery grows more.
There will always be questions. I will never figure everything out.
But somehow there is joy. It is a profound joy. It is a joy in the swirl of mystery. It is richer and more satisfying than knowing everything. Thank God.