Saturday, September 21, 2013

Figuring Out the Sea

Like most webcomics, xkcd--a comic with an affinity for lowercase letters and nerdy references--appeals to a particular audience, has a certain tone, and doesn’t vary too much in format.

Except last April, when xkcd's creator, Randall Munroe, started posting a series called “Time.” Read about it here for more details. It’s pretty cool.

The basic plot of this 3,000+ panel comic involves two people who are concerned about why the sea seems to be rising, so they go on a journey to find out why. I know this because one summer evening without much else going on, I watched the whole thing. And this frame right here was by far my favorite.

The reason I love this? The speaker isn’t going to give up on figuring out the sea. That’s a good, important goal. But he would be satisfied with just finding more beautiful places even if he doesn’t find answers.

It is extremely unfortunate that I have Miley Cyrus’s song, “The Climb” coming to mind right now. But that is what is happening.

Why? Well, I remember a discussion of her lyrics that went something like this:

Person 1: Wait, why doesn’t it matter what’s waiting on the other side? Isn’t that kind of the point of the climb?

Person 2: Yeah, what if you went over the mountain and you found a desert or something?

Person 3: Or what if you were Frodo and you climbed up Mount Doom only to find a happy meadow with fluffy bunnies and puppies frolicking around? That would be bad too. Because then you wouldn’t be able to destroy the ring. Unless one of the bunnies took it the rest of the way.

(Fine, yes, I was Person 3. Someone really should make a LOTR montage with “The Climb” in the background. Picture that with me for a moment, please.)

The point is, sometimes it’s not just about the climb. But it’s also not just about the destination. It’s about both.

If we’re going to hijack this exceptionally vague metaphor and apply it to Christianity, I would say that asking hard questions about our faith is also about both the intended destination (answers to our questions) and the climb (the process of getting those answers).

I love challenging things. Sometimes I find myself disagreeing with Christian nonfiction authors just because I really want to find something to disagree with. I love questions: impertinent ones asked in Bible classes, messy ones scribbled in the margins of sermon notes, tricky ones that I can talk about with others for hours at a time.

Sometimes, I have people ask me, “Why should I care about [controversial issue or question]? In heaven, I’ll understand everything, and in the meantime I can trust God that what he does is always good.”

This is true. This also does absolutely nothing to determine whether it’s good or important to ask questions about faith. It’s taking the destination (heaven), being very sure that answers can’t exist before that destination, and blocking out the entire journey.

I also know people who get very frustrated when they search for an answer to a question about God or the Bible and don’t get an easy answer…or, sometimes, don’t get any answers at all, even after years of asking. They’ve got the climb down, but want the destination to be on their terms.

There comes a point when we don’t ask questions because we think we deserve to know all the answers. We just love questions, because we were made that way. Because questions and discovery and knowledge can be beautiful things, and we were made for beauty.

Sometimes, we figure out the sea. Sometimes, we just find beautiful places along the way, and the fact that we haven’t figured out the sea means that it, too, is beautiful and bigger than we ever thought.

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