What Comes First, The Answer or the Question?
In synagogue last week, we read a passage from Samuel that left us stunned by the unfairness it recounted. Uzzah and his brother Ahio were charged with transporting the Holy Ark of the Covenant from one place to another. When the ox pulling the cart in which the Ark was being transported stumbled, Uzzah reached out and touched the ark to steady it. Touching the Ark, to which was affixed the Divine Name, was a no-no of Leviathan proportions. Immediately, God struck Uzzah down “on the spot.”.
What? Why? How unjust! How unfair! Would it have been better to let the Ark fall? To wait a beat or two to see if the ox would steady itself thus putting the cart before the Ark? The more my friend and I kept at it, I realized that perhaps the finding of an answer was less important than the actual search for an answer.
How could God do that? has kept students and scholars discussing this and other impenetrable questions for millennia. Arrive at an answer and you move on, putting the question aside once and for all. But if you are returned to the struggle time and again, different insights can arise. A conversation with a different friend can shed new light and/or perspectives. Pat answers close a door; the search for answers props doors, and minds, open for as long as it takes. Sometimes it takes forever.
Then again, some questions are simply unanswerable. I no longer grapple with, Why the Shoah?* God is either all knowing and powerless or powerful and indifferent. Neither option invites relationship. My answer to that question is this: my puny human spirit-mind is beyond understanding such impenetrables. Think Jack Nicholson on the stand in A Few Good Men. The answer is a truth I cannot, and have not been created to, handle. Some may call mine the coward’s way out. I prefer to think of it as setting aside the impossible to leave energy for taking on the possible.
God’s first question to Adam, indeed the first question in the Hebrew Bible is Where are you? The Divine had caught wind of Adam and Eve’s encounter with the snake and their alfresco fruit sampling. Centuries of answers grapple with that question. Where are you? invites a lifetime of answering, discovering within hidden wells of strength and potential growth.
One year our answer to Where are you? might be, “snared in pain and resentment.” Then one day, Where are you? comes at us again and we have a new answer, one sourced from compassion and forgiveness. Another year and perhaps we might answer from a place of understanding and empathy.
Answers matter. For me, however, the questions matter more.
*Shoah is a Hebrew word meaning utter and complete destruction. Holocaust is derived from the Greek word holokauston meaning a sacrifice that is consumed by fire, as was done in Biblical times. The preference for using Shoah reinforces the truth that Hitler’s murder of six million Jews was not a sacrifice to a deity but an incomprehensible destruction of human life