She comes at me with eyes wide, wearing questions on her wrinkled brow.
She’s in her 30s, born in the decade of disco. But she says she’s really only five years old, because she didn’t learn to live free until 2006. That’s the year she met Christ.
She grabs my wrists, asks me to come to a quiet place, because she thinks I know the answers to the questions eating at her.
My insides rumble. I want to have answers, but rarely do, and I’m afraid she’s going to be disappointed.
We walk through the bunk room of a retreat center, past the kitchen where aproned cooks chatter and spread chicken-salad on croissants. We find two empty chairs in an empty room. I pray my answers won’t be empty.
We sit knee to knee, and she gives voice to her fear.
“I’m scared to go deeper,” her voice trembles. “Sometimes God scares me.”
She paraphrases from Scripture about an angry God who crushed cities, laid out Levitical laws, swept with the “broom of destruction.”
“I read those words,” she says. “But sometimes I don’t understand what it all means.”
Four years ago, she started reading Children’s Bibles with neatly-packaged stories about a friend named Jesus, a wise king named Solomon, an ark and a lion’s den.
She’s done with children’s books now; she joined an adult study. But Bible study intimidates her. She says everyone else knows exactly where to turn in that big Book. They have perfect answers for the fill-in-the-blanks. At night, she Googles for answers, because she’s afraid she won’t find them on her own. And even worse, the God of the Old Testament scares her.
I nod. I have known the fear of sitting on the rim of Scripture, toes dipping in and then recoiling.
I tell her how I used to run from questions because they made me second-guess everything. I kept questions quiet. If I asked them aloud, wouldn’t people see my doubting heart?
I tell her about my Mystery File, the fattening manila folder on my writing desk. It’s the place where I put questions that remain unanswered. Because Google doesn’t have all the answers either.
I tell her about the handwritten note tucked between the onion-skin pages of my Bible. It reads: “Keep reading. It’s not the end of the Book.”
Even the safest stories aren’t all that safe. Many of our faith heroes were tarnished. They murdered, and stole, and got drunk, and said dumb things, and called down curses on people.
But we discover surprises when we peek into the darkest parts of Scripture. We encounter hope in the middle of our questions. In the messiest stories of the Bible, we hear voices of the redeemed.
In our questions, we find ourselves. We find a love story orchestrated by the Living God. We discover that the God of the Old Testament is, indeed, the God of love that we find in the New Testament.
In our questions, we find Jesus.
She and I link hands. I ask her: Could she and I both jump? Could we dive in, fearlessly? Could we be satisfied with not knowing every answer? Could we take up the hard work of discovery, knowing that our quest will always bring us to the Cross?
She says yes. And so do I. On the count of three, we jump.