I’ve been reading the gospel of John lately. Do you want to know what frustrates me about the book? Jesus never actually answers any questions people ask him. Usually he answers questions with another question, which has to be totally frustrating. It’s frustrating to me as a reader.
I think there’s an important lesson in there: God often leaves us with more questions than answers, and he asks us to be okay with that. He asks us to to trust him even when it might not obviously make sense to us.
A Hard Teaching
A great example of this is in John 6. The chapter starts with Jesus miraculously feeding the 5,000. Then he escapes from the crowds and walks on water. Then the people find him and want to force him to become king.
Jesus’ response to this is not what the average person’s response would be. Instead of taking advantage of the situation (and remember, he knew that eventually he would be glorified and king over all, this seems like a great shortcut to that), he does the exact opposite. He gives one of the most confusing, disgusting, and difficult to understand teachings.
Starting in verse 51, Jesus starts saying over and over again that the people need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. That’s a super weird thing to say. In almost every culture, cannibalism is highly looked down upon. It would be even more reprehensible in Jewish culture where there were already tons of laws about clean and unclean food. Plus, it’s commanded multiple time in the Old Testament law that drinking blood under any circumstance is forbidden.
Because of this teaching, Jesus has multiple of his disciples turn back and stop following him. These are not just people in the crowd who walk away. Those people are kind of fickle anyway. John points out that these are actual disciples that are walking away, people who had committed to following Jesus, who had been loyal to him. But many of them say, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (Verse 60).
Jesus then turns to the 12, his inner circle and asks them if they are going to leave too. Peter steps up and responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Verse 68-69)
Now, if there’s one thing we know about Peter, it’s that he’s not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s often confused and he’s often impetuous. I could be wrong, but my guess is that Peter doesn’t fully understand what Jesus is talking about. I’m guessing that Peter is wondering what Jesus is talking about. He’s probably just as confused as anybody else.
However, he has a relationship with Jesus. He’s come to trust him. Even though he doesn’t understand 100% what Jesus is saying, he’s 100% confident that Jesus is who he says he is. He’s committed to following Jesus whether he understands or not.
Can You Relate?
This same thing happens in our lives all the time. Some hard thing happens and we can’t quite square it with who we think and believe God is. We look at a teaching in the Bible and question how that can really be what God is saying. We always have the same choice that Peter and all the disciples did: do we walk away because we can’t accept this teaching, or do we choose to stay despite not understanding completely.
I’ll be honest and say that there are times in my life where I have walked away. I couldn’t accept that God would leave me single even though I had tried to do all the right things and even though I so desired to be in a relationship. Because of that, I walked away. To be honest, I was too scared of going to hell to completely reject God, but I did a lot of things I knew I shouldn’t have, just to give God the finger.
It wasn’t all that fun in the end. God was gracious enough to chase me down and give me another chance. He gave me the relationship I so desired in the midst of my little temper tantrum. We wooed me back to himself. Then gave me a hard teaching. The relationship ended very suddenly. I had the choice again. I could stay despite not understanding or I could walk away again. Since walking away hadn’t actually been all that fun, I decided to stay that time.
I didn’t understand what God was doing. However, I decided that I was going to trust God this time, and God came through. Don’t get me wrong, I know it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes we have to accept something hard that we never understand why it happened. Maybe we lose a family member unexpectedly or we have a chronic health condition or any number of hard things that sometimes happen in life. Regardless of what the hard thing is, we always have a choice: stay and trust or run and reject.
We’re Never a Lost Cause
The good news is that even if we reject, we can always come back. We don’t know what happened to those disciples that walked away in this story. I’d like to think that at least some of them made their way back to Jesus in the end. We don’t know if that happened or not, but if Peter (who stayed this time) could come back after denying Jesus three times, those who walked away after this hard teaching surely would be welcomed back if they returned.
The truth is that these hard things are going to happen. Hard teaching and hard circumstances are bound to come up. The ultimate question is do we trust Jesus enough to stay by his side even if we don’t understand. Whether we ever get the answers to the questions we have or not, can we trust that God is good and that His plan is for our ultimate good?