ON HER DEATHBED, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, "What is the answer?" Then, after a long silence, "What is the question?" Don't start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks.
We are much involved, all of us, with questions about things that matter a good deal today but will be forgotten by this time tomorrow—the immediate wheres and whens and hows that face us daily at home and at work—but at the same time we tend to lose track of the questions about things that matter always, life-and-death questions about meaning, purpose, and value. To lose track of such deep questions as these is to risk losing track of who we really are in our own depths and where we are really going. There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among all those India-paper pages there awaits each reader whoever he is the one question which, though for years he may have been pretending not to hear it, is the central question of his own life. Here are a few of them:
What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Matthew 16:26)
Am I my brother's keeper? (Genesis 4:9)
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
What is truth? (John 18:38)
How can a man be born when he is old? (John 3:4)
What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? (Psalm 139:7)
Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)
When you hear the question that is your question, then you have already begun to hear much. Whether you can accept the Bible's answer or not, you have reached the point where at least you can begin to hear it too.
-Originally published in Wishful Thinking