We've been talking this week about a scene in the gospel of John in which it appears that Jesus told a lie. He said He was not going to Jerusalem for the feast, but in fact, He does go. Not only does He go, but He is very public about His going, even showing up at the Temple itself. And over the course of the week, we have seen a number of theologically-unsatisfying explanations that we have tried to make about what's really happening here.
And we could keep going with that. Maybe forever. For example, maybe we would say that Jesus changed His mind after His brothers left. That He really wasn't going to go, then decided to go. That makes sense...except that it gives us a God who changes His mind. That's not theologically satisfying. We can't worship a God who changes His mind and wants one thing today and something else tomorrow. We can't love a God whose love might be fickle.
Or maybe we say that Jesus just couldn't deny the faithfulness that was inside of Him. That He didn't want to go, but His sense of duty compelled Him and finally won out. Any of us who has been tempted to skip a Sunday morning church service knows this feeling. There's an overwhelming sense of guilt at not doing what we believe we should do, and the guilt nags at us until we finally just do what is right. But do we want a God who is driven by guilt? Do we want a God who would even think about not doing that thing that is so nagging in His Spirit that He eventually cannot not do it? Again, this raises more questions than it answers.
We have a thousand explanations and excuses for the things that we don't understand about God. We are always trying to come up with ways to fill the void of our knowledge or at least, to answer the ache that we feel when we don't have the answers. We keep running to these things that seem to make so much sense, at least on the surface, but the truth is that our faith is not strengthened by them; it's suffering because of them. Every attempt that we make to come up with something like this to answer the unanswerable seems to raise more questions than it answers and ends up more unsatisfying than satisfying.
I know you've probably been waiting all week, being patient with me because you think that I'm going to tell you what is going on in this passage, what it really means. Well, I have bad news for you - I'm not going to do that.
I'm not going to do that because I don't know. It's not something I understand...yet. It's not that I can't understand it (God is not unknowable), but just that I don't understand it right now. There are some things that I do know. I do know that God is not a liar. I do know that God does not change His mind. I do know that I can understand God and that He wants me to understand Him. I do know that God speaks plainly in most circumstances. I do know that whatever the answer to this particular question is, it does not call into question the answers of which I am certain on other questions of God - namely, of His nature and character and love.
And I'm not troubled by not knowing. I'm really not. It took me a long time to get there, but the truth is that I want a God who is bigger than my understanding of Him. I need a God who is bigger than my understanding of Him. I am not troubled by the mystery; in fact, I am comforted by it. Because it means that my God really is who He says He is - God of all things and not just my things. And that's good news.
Why did Jesus say He wasn't going and then go? I don't know. The only thing I know is that whatever the reason, it was a very Jesus-like reason. It was a very God-like thing to do. And I can't wait to know what that God-like reason is...because I know that when I do understand it, it will tell me something wonderful about God that clearly, I don't already know. And I just love it when that happens. Every little thing I learn about Him makes me love Him all the more, and I know that this particular thing will be no different.