Friday, September 26, 2014

Sully Notes 17 | The End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith Part 1 of 3

Sully Notes 17: Books in 25 minutes or less

Sully Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here are links to the previous Sully Notes books:

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Emmaus City Worcester MA Soma 3DM Acts 29 Christian Reformed Network of Missional CommunitiesWith the peak of knowledge either being logical understanding or humbly choosing not to know, questioning is one among many things our twenty-first century American culture exercises well. When we can't own something rationally or scientifically, than it cannot be known or established as applicable to all. We strive to cement the universal in what science, medicine, and technology can bring to every person, but in areas of morality, faith, and ethics, we often back pedal, not wanting to seem too concrete in our views or too narrow in our perspective. With these tensions constantly at work, I greatly appreciate Matthew Lee Anderson's The End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Anderson, a beautiful thinker and writer who also writes for, generously discusses how we can become good questioners that do more than question for the sake of the question itself, but ask more in order to journey forward and arrive at answers with others, as well as for ourselves.


The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson Review of Quotes | Sully Notes 17: Part 1 of 3 

A Beginning

"'Old men out to be explorers | Here and there does not matter | We must be still and still moving | Into another intensity | For a further union, a deeper communion.' T.S. Eliot pg. 11
"'Where have you come from and where are you going?' is the question the angel of the Lord poses to Hagar as she flees Sarai. Where do we inquire from and where will our pursuit take us? And will our exploring lead us home, even if we arrive with a limp? The snub-nosed philosopher Socrates famously suggested that the 'unexamined life is not worth living.' We remember little about him except that bit, and that his insistent pestering eventually got him killed. His general point goes too far, in my opinion. Those with severe mental disabilities have lives worth living, even if they may not be able to examine them as others might. But I borrow from Socrates' dictum to introduce one of my own: The unexamined question is not worth asking. ... Those who question (rather than merely ask questions) have something wrapped up in their pursuit, such that the meaning of their lives will be altered depending on what they see (or fail to see). ... We have made our start, our first step, which in a world bound by stasis is the hardest and most uncertain. The step out the door begins the adventure, which is why so many of us tend to stay home." – pgs. 12-14

Chapter One | A Few Initial Thoughts about the Questioning Life

 "With what end in view do you again and again walk along difficult and laborious paths? Augustine pg. 15

" ... I have doubted whether God is good, and whether He will be good to me. The uncertainty has pressed on me, bending both soul and body beneath its weight. I have felt the terrors of His judgment and the horrors of His indifference. These moments were often accompanied by confrontations with my own sin, but other times they arose out of my frustrated sense of entitlement, which I experienced as rejection. ... 'I would have despaired,' the psalmist writes, 'unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.' When we consider the possibility that God will not be good to us, we stand on the precipice of despair and peer into the darkness below. ... These days, I am more doubtful of seeing my own goodness in the land of the living than I am am of seeing God's. He has already proven Himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is I who am in question. 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' is the inquiry the ruler poses to Jesus. The question signals a profound uncertainty, a sense that we are responsible for our lives and their destinations. The moment we pose it, we move down a path of confronting our own incapacity to attain salvation, a path that takes us to the limits of our own holiness and places us in need of God's." pgs. 15-16

"It's not easy to sell a tradition (those who question) whose main representatives, like Solomon and Socrates, faced depression or involuntary death. ... Questioning is a form of our desire. Even while our inquiries often take an intellectual form, they come from wellsprings deeper than the mind. We do not always choose our questions, any more than we choose our spouses. Our questions drag us about like chariots, which is precisely why letting them go can be so hard." pgs. 17-19  

"We associate questioning with youthfulness and for understandable reasons. Children are naturally inquisitive: they search and explore their surroundings with abandon. ... But if the young question most, the wise question best. The art of questioning takes a lifetime to perfect, for the most interesting questions flow from a deep well of insights. The more we understand, the more fine-grained our awareness of the negative spaces will be. The more we learn about the world, the more we will realize how much more there is to know, if we will only remember our ignorance and continue noticing the negative spaces. Those who have learned best and longest will explore hidden nooks and corners that those of us starting out cannot begin to imagine. The wise have seen negative spaces that only well-trained eyes are strong enough to detect." pgs. 20-21

"While Job asks God whether He has the eyes of a man, God retorts by wondering whether Job has the eyes of God. ... When God asks, 'Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?' there is no doubt about the answer. But by using questions, God invites Job to look at creation as He does so Job can see the gap for himself. God's questions are a form of saying 'come and see,' rather than a didactic exposition on the nature of God's uniqueness and incomprehensibility. God's questions help Job reimagine his world in order to more clearly see his place within it, a place that is surrounded by a host of unknowns. They take Job beyond staring into the void and keep him from losing himself amidst a sea of negations or denials. Job is taken beyond simply living the 'negative spaces' for their own sake. Each time he is confronted by a question, he comes face-to-face with God. Job has not 'entered into the springs of the sea,' but in recognizing this gap in his knowledge Job is confronted by the one who has. The questions themselves help Job understand himself and God more clearly – himself in the light of God which is why Job will respond to God that he has now seen Him face-to-face." pgs. 22-23

" ... we set about exploring because we feel, however opaquely, that what we discover will be good. We believe that our finding will be better than for the unknown to remain unknown, that our apprehending the truth will somehow make us whole. The good and the true go together. As theologian Thomas Aquinas put it, 'truth is something good, otherwise it would not be desirable; and good is something true, otherwise it would not be intelligible.' ... Our belief that the truth will be good even when we don't know it moves us to search and inquire." pgs. 23-24

" ... poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes: ... 'What matters is that you live everything. And you must now live the questions. One day perhaps you will gradually and imperceptibly live your way into the answer.' ... we will live ourselves into the answers only if we live the questions well, orienting them around the good and the true that are revealed in the person of Jesus. The sort of questions that we can live arise when we linger over our lives, when we patiently and deliberately peer into unknown corners with the boundless, childlike energy of those eager to discover what all shall be. They bubble up from our communities and the challenges we face to live well within them. ... questions to rise to the surface during seasons of suffering, even if the suffering is not our own. Pain renders the world's goodness questionable. It shocks us out of our complacent attachment to the blessings of comfort and prosperity. It reopens the universe to us, casting a shadow over our lives and the goodness we had wrongly 'taken for granted.' When we see the reason for our pain, when we are finally given the meaning – the satisfaction will be a joy beyond words, a peace beyond understanding. ... It is a sign of the frailty of contemporary Christianity, rather than its strength, that we often do not begin to question until the megaphone of suffering has awakened us from our sleep. Until suffering comes upon us, the explorations that consume our hearts and our communities reflect the shallowness of our lives. We ask our questions forgetting that we lie under the shadow – under the sentence –of death. Our lack of courage keeps us free to live among distractions and trivialities and stay within the waiain the warm comfort of our own understanding. But our 'freedom' is only bondage, and these days our chains are only broken when death and pain's rude irruption turns our faces toward the unknown, undiscovered country all around us." – pgs. 24-26

" ... if we are to enter into the questioning life, we might begin by questioning ourselves. ... Both our lives and their questions must be placed on the altar, tested, and tried to discern whether they will last until the end of all things. We can learn to ask better questions. We read old books to learn to ask the questions of those who have gone before us. And we read the great books because the questions they pose go into the center of things, even if the answers they put forward and the worlds they imagine are not always true. And we read Scripture to see the questions that arise from it, to learn to see the hidden spaces of the world from the vantage point of God and man." – pg. 26

"It is possible for our exploring to imperceptibly lead us toward destinations we never imagined at the outset. Our questions can quietly assume the tenor of demands, such that we would pull the Almighty down to us and compel Him to answer. Or we can treat them as bricks in our towers, as was built at Babel, as we scale the heights in comic acts of hubris. Searching the nooks and crannies is not for the faint of heart. 'Guard your steps,' the author of Ecclesiastes writes, 'when you go to the house of God.' We shouldn't be so naive as to think it safe to explore things into which angels long to look." – pg. 27

" ...  home is where we start and where we shall someday return. The path between has been marked out for us by a Savior who became the prodigal from heaven, journeying into the far country to bring us home with Him. He is both the end of our exploring and its liberating transformation. It is Jesus who has already profaned the mysteries of God by making the unknown at the center known to us: he who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. 'Although (wisdom) is actually our homeland,' St. Augustine once said, 'it has also made itself the road to our homeland.' ... the path leads down the via Dolorosa and up toward Golgotha, as we take up our cross and follow the One who went ahead." – pg. 28 

Chapter Two | When the Questions Are Not Neutral

" ... the serpent's question was designed to erode Adam and Eve's trust in the gracious providence of God. Rather than make open warfare, the serpent cloaks his resistance in the innocent garb of inquiry. 'Did God actually say?' It carries a note of disbelief, of uncertainty and hesitation, about God's command. It is suggestive and provocative not because it is edgy but because the serpent has a point: the goodness of God's revelation isn't quite so straightforward as Adam and Eve initially believed. Not content with a single assault, though, the serpent opens up multiple fronts. The name he uses for God subtly drives a wedge between Adam and Eve and their Creator. The only name the text uses for God to that point is YHWH, the 'Lord God,' the one who is near to His people and will remain faithful to them. But the serpent switches to the more generic name Elohim, replacing the intimate, gracious authoritarianism of the Lord God with a more distant conception of deity akin the 'man upstairs.' It seems like a minor change, but it moves Adam and Eve into foreign and less friendly territory. And then there is the most obvious fault in the serpent's question: God did not actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.' He did not say that at all. The quotation is a misquotation, a bit of bad scholarship. It will not be the last time in Scripture Satan (deliberately) misreads god's commands, which ought to be a cautionary tale for us all. And the freedom the serpent promises is only effective because his reading is that of dour legalist. Where God grants permission  'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,' save only the one  the serpent sees only restriction. Adam and Eve had been placed in a paradise of pleasures, none of which the serpent was fit to enjoy. ...  the inquiry has a fatal flaw. It redraws the boundaries God established and casts aspersions on God's character. The question itself casts a shadow over the Lord God and His kindness, a shadow that becomes the shadow of death."  pgs. 33-34

"The man who asks whether God's mercy allows for justice may be asking a sincere question and faithfully opening himself to the creative destruction of his own false ideas or to a deepened understanding of his true ones. His questioning may be rooted in love and aimed at his growth. Or he may be clinging to the final vestiges of his rebellion, making a final desperate stand against the holiness of God. Or he may be merely playing a game, reducing God to an abstraction for his own intellectual satisfaction. These possibilities and countless others stand beneath every inquiry that we make. ... As long as we live beneath the shadow, we must consider the possibility that the desires and motivations beneath our questions will be hidden even from ourselves. I have sometimes thought that it is our capacity for self-deception that marks us off as human. We are more skilled at hiding from our own gaze than we realize and more eager to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt than we should be. And so those who are prone to question must, above all, question themselves. As long as we consider our questions outside the realm of sin and sanctification, we establish them as idols, ironically creating the conditions for our own spiritual and intellectual frustration. Questioning is not a safe practice, nor is it self-justifying. pgs. 34, 36

"The first thing to ask when our faith is 'called into question,' as Adam and Eve's was, is whether the inquiry is an invitation to join the rebellion. Does the form of the question itself presuppose hostility toward God? Is it the sort of question slanted toward our faithful obedience or toward the hostility of rebellion? ... In Matthew 22, when the Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is lawful to pay taxes, Jesus brings to the surface their 'malice' by asking why they are putting Him to the test. By responding to questions with other questions, we learn to see the more fundamental concerns and desires that often lie beneath inquiries."  pg. 37

" ... it is Jesus who understands the outer reaches of temptation because He resisted until the end. He is able to see our sin perfectly because He hasn't any. Sin clouds things up, makes the intellectual vision bend sideways. While we tend to privilege the 'authentic' testimony of those who struggle, understanding comes to those who remain innocent of evil without remaining ignorant of it. pg. 39
"God's first word to (Adam and Eve after they sin) is not an offer of forgiveness, though, or the verdict of punishment. It is a question. While the rebellion of man against God was launched with a convoluted, poorly worded query, the rebellion of God against sin takes a simpler, more powerful form: 'Where are you?' It's a perplexing thing that an omniscient God would ask a question. Certainly He knows where they are. Yet the question expresses an interest in Adam and Eve. Even from the beginning, in the moment of our sin, God does not want only to be Lord over us but God with and among us. ... By posing a question, God moves toward Adam and Eve and give them the opportunity to speak with Him. His question rebuilds the ground between them that their sin had ruptured. God's question is the starting point for their journey of return. It is an invitation, and as a word of God to man, it is a moment of grace. It is the first moment of God's redemptive activity: in asking, God reminds us that He will listen as we speak, even if we utter a confession. And the question helps Adam and Eve find themselves by acknowledging where they had gone to. We can only begin our journey from where we are, but most of us don't even know where we are. Identifying our emotional, mental, and spiritual surroundings proves more difficult than it might seem – as I suspect any counselor would readily affirm. pgs. 41-42

"We can only begin to make our way back home if we open ourselves to the questions God has for us. Just as Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy begins with him waking to find himself lost in a dark wood – a curious phenomenon, for how can one awake and find himself lost?  so the first step of return begins when we recognize and say that we too have gone astray. We begin from where we are, even if we start from nowhere. 'To return to the place where we are not, we must go through the way in which we are not,' is T.S. Eliot's lovely phrase. The only return toward God is by acknowledging we have departed, a fact that God already knows but desires us to utter all the same."  pg. 43

" ... the true beginning of our exploring is when we are explored by God. Inquiry stands under judgment: it is a gracious judgment, to be sure, by a judge whose mercy is everlasting. But the quality of God's mercy can only be known through the corresponding repentance of our sin. And if we think we can explore the foundations of our own questions and the reasons of our own hearts without deepening our own self-deception and self-justification, then our vanity is more pervasive than we realize. The psalmist's prayer is that God would search his heart, that all his hidden ways would be known. Just as the deepest moments of our prayers are accessible only to the indwelling Holy Spirit, so the depths of our sin will remain hidden to us until Jesus mercifully finds them out. Opening ourselves to being questioned by God means, here and now, surrendering ourselves to the Word of Scripture, a word that probes and questions us as we read it. As many questions as we have about the world and as important as they are, we should remember that the Bible has its own questions that it poses to us. Will we faithfully strive to understand the text? Will we live within its commandments, once we discern them? How shall we respond when Jesus asks, 'And who do you say I am?' 'Do you take offense at this?' 'Do you want to go away as well?' Learning to ask questions along with Scripture means opening ourselves to the text, integrating it into our hearts and habits, and allowing it to reform our inquiries. Remaining open to the questions of God is at the heart of walking in faith and trusting in His goodness despite the terror we might feel."  pgs. 43-44 

Chapter Three | On Doubt and What Doubt Isn't

"'You say you didn't mean any harm; did you mean any good ... ?'– George MacDonald  pgs. 45

"Our distance from the sea and its ancient meaning makes it hard to resonate with Paul's most impressive mixed metaphors in Ephesians 4:13-14. The ministries of the church, Paul suggests, are aimed at building us up 'to mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.' He contrasts this with children who are 'tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.' The image is a strange one, simultaneously evoking amusement and horror. But his point is straightforward: maturity is a kind of stability, a steadfastness. The complete person is as unmoved as God. He has a fixity to him, a surety that the chaos of a fallen world cannot touch him at the center. 'My anchor holds within the veil,' the old song puts it. That anchor may be tested will be tested – if we walk with Jesus. But those who are mature know that it holds, that their position is secure. '(The Lord's) steadfast love endures forever' is the promise, and it shows up often enough in the Psalms to ensure we don't miss the point." – pg. 46

"Christians have spoken in the past of faith as a virtue, which is a good way to think about it. It comes to us as a gift. It cannot be earned. But like all gifts, it must be cherished and cultivated if it is to flourish and endure. The land God gives Israel as an inheritance must be claimed and all of its enemy occupants eventually driven out. So the faith that works our salvation sometimes must be buttressed against withering attacks of doubt. From the earliest moment I can remember in the church, the apostle Peter's willingness to race across a raging sea to see Jesus has been put forward as the paradigm of faithful obedience. And for very good reason. The eager recognition of God in Jesus Christ often takes us across and beyond places that others tremble to go. We are surrounded on every side by dangers, which we would be foolish to ignore.– pg. 47
" ... emphasis on certainty is often treated as one of the hallmarks of 'modernism,' which we have now gone beyond with our 'postmodern' suspicions and recognition of limitations. But the paradox is that there are few more 'modern' approaches to the world than to doubt what we have received from tradition and authority. In its popular form, postmodern doubt is merely modern skepticism with hipster glasses. ... as Wayne Booth wrote ... the modern dogma is that 'the job of thought is to doubt whatever can be doubted.'– pgs. 47-48

"Trafficking in doubt draws a crowd, as anxious uncertainty strikes us as more authentic and courageous than firm conviction. It is bold to ask our questions, we think, and cowardly to retreat to the creed. Yet I note with some irony that the genuinely revolutionary, countercultural stance is the same as ever: to say our creed with the confidence that comes from living within it and finding that it is true, good, and beautiful. In a world saturated by sarcasm and a diffident detachment from the so-called hard questions, the earnest confidence of belief confessed in the creed simply sounds different." – pg. 49

"What we should pursue is a confident faith that questions and questions well, not the vague instability of doubt that replaces the overweening certainty of fundamentalism. ...  Doubt seems to be more of a state or condition, while questioning is a pursuit. ... Failing to distinguish between doubt and questioning creates confusion and makes commendable to us forms of life that we may not be called to as Christians, even while there is as much room for those who doubt within the kingdom as there is for anyone else. Faith does not close off questioning – it reforms and orients it.– pg. 51
"'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' In the middle of the crucifixion, the crux of history, Jesus articulates the deepest anxiety humanity knows: whether God will be good to us in the midst of our sin and suffering. He poses a question that seems to indicate something like doubt. G.K. Chesterton once suggested that the line made Christianity, 'the one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist.' ... Scripture makes room for lamentation and grief, for the bitter sorrow of deferred longing. But its exhortation and encouragement routinely moves us away from doubt and toward the confidence – not the certainty but the confidence – of faith. ... The mournful cry of longing and frustration is simply faith in a minor key: we only pour out our hearts to those we believe will hear us and respond." – pgs. 52-53 

"Facing his own death, John the Baptist asks Jesus whether He was the one that they had longed for or whether they should look for someone else. ... John's question comes from the shadows of a prison. It is the question of a man whose life has been wrapped up in another, who has believed but has not yet seen the One he proclaimed bring about the transformation John had longed for. 'Are you really He?' What looks at first glance like a wavering commitment is swept up within the painful cross of trustful love. As Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, 'We have to pose the question, 'Are you really He,' not only through honesty of thought and because of reason's responsibility, but also in accordance with the intrinsic law of love, which wants to know more and more him to whom it has given its 'Yes,' so as to be able to love him more.'" – pgs. 54-55

"Peter thinks that Jesus is going to assume power through a rebellion, but Jesus' path goes through the cross – it is resurrection that Jesus brings us to, not an insurrection.– pg. 56

"Mark ... wants to train reader to see Jesus' life as the disciples did, which means he often leaves Jesus' glory hidden. Even in the moment of the resurrection, Mark underscores the fear and confusion of those who have not yet grasped all that the events mean. Yet while Mark leaves room for this response, he does not want us to remain confused. For in the moment of fear and uncertainty – even that prompted by the resurrection – Mark wants us to begin the gospel again and learn to see Jesus anew: 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ... ' The fear and uncertainty we experience even within the context of the resurrection is the fuel we use to better understand our Savior and His world. In Mark's gospel, more than the others, we see in a mirror dimly – men walking about like trees, a man who orders those He heals to not make Him known as the Son of God. Only by reading and rereading the text are we given sight. Mark's audience would have been well acquainted with fear, persecuted as it was. But by deliberately reminding us of Jesus' hidden and veiled glory, Mark gives hope to the suffering by pointing toward a God who suffered as a man as well. We learn to read the gospel differently in light of the resurrection, which transforms our faith into sight and mercifully chastens our misconceptions of the Savior." – pgs. 56-57

"Where the instability of doubt is present, Christ may also be there – but where Christ is, the instability of doubt may not remain, for the Christ who commands us to believe will also give to us the power to believe.– pg. 58
"The moments of doubt that we see in Scripture are taken up into the life of faith, not kept outside of it. The moments full of anxious uncertainty, such that our bones feel as though they are rotting, are transposed into another key. If we situate them within the story of the gospel, we discover that such moments are not the end. We find resolution to insecurities and instabilities not necessarily when we find answers but when we express them in prayer. We are not called to bury our doubts but to confess them. And when those near us are embroiled in doubts, it is given to us to bear their crosses with them and enter into their labor alongside them. 'Have mercy on those who doubt' is Jude's command, a command that can only be fulfilled when we remember the God who has had mercy on us all.– pg. 59
"Confidence has many imitators and the most pernicious might be that which always speaks with the right answer. 'In quietness and in trust shall be your strength,' Isaiah writes. We have this confidence only when we soberly and truthfully confess the frailty of our belief and praise the faithfulness of God to His people despite the appearances. When the man cries out, 'I believe; Help my unbelief!' a faith that will grow into confidence is formed in Him.– pg. 59

"Lamentations keeps doubt at bay. The absence of genuine, sorrowful mourning in our worship services and communities is more to blame for the rise of doubt and instability among younger Christians than any French philosopher ever could be. The absence of lamentation is a failure to preach the whole counsel of God – which includes an entire book devoted to Lamentations. ... that is the paradox of faith: the surer our commitment to the power of God's promises, the louder our lament will be as we wait to see those promises fulfilled. The more unwavering our affirmation of God's goodness, the more resolved will be our pursuit of justice. The more we trust in His Word, the more we will question ourselves." – pgs. 60, 62

"While the first movement of faith is prayer and the final is worship, between them lie the questioning and exploring. The life of faith liberates our questioning from the anxious burden of justifying ourselves, for when we live within the domain of the cross, we rejoice in Christ's justification of us. Jesus' triumphal cry of dereliction is a question asked once, for all. And once answered in the resurrection, the finality of it sets those who are in Christ free to pursue their inquiries with the knowing confidence that Jesus shall direct and redirect their exploratory steps as He deems fit. ... Questions that we purse within the life of faith have a unique tenor. The questioning of faith is a confident questioning, a questioning that knows the answer we seek is already known by God and will be revealed to us when we are ready." – pgs. 63-64  

Next post: Sully Notes 17 | The End of Our Exploring Part 2 of 3

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