Monday, November 20, 2006

Same question; different answers

The Gospel of Luke describes God responding differently to different kinds of questions and doubts. In chapter one, an angel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth will become the parents of John the Baptist. In light of his advanced age, Zechariah doubts the angel's message and asks 'how can I know this is true?' In response, he gets a sign: the angel strikes his tongue so he cannot speak.

In the same chapter, Mary is told by an angel that she will give birth. In light of her virginity, she is confused. She asks 'how can this be true?' This is almost exactly the same question Zechariah asked; yet, instead of being struck dumb, the angel grants her a detailed explanation.

I can only figure that the reason for the different angelic responses was due to the spirit of the questioners. Zechariah probably doubted the angelic proclamation; whereas Mary probably didn't doubt, but failed to understand.

Jesus also responds differently to different types of questions and doubts. When his critics and enemies ask him to produce a sign, wonder, or miracle, he refuses to give them one. Yet when one of his own disciples says 'I will not believe in the resurrection unless I can put my fingers in his wounds,' Jesus allows him to do just that.

Within apparently very similar questions, I see a spectrum of attitudes, and it appears that these attitudes determine the type of answer one receives from God.


Jeff said...

I don't know. The Bible is also littered with occasions in which someone has called B.S. on God and lived to tell the tale. Abraham brought God down from 40 righteous souls to 10 in re: Sodom, and Moses spared the Hebrews from total destruction after the whole golden-calf episode. The name "Yisrael," given to Jacob after that angel-wrestling episode and applied to Jews ever since, means "to struggle with God." So I don't think Zecharaiah was struck dumb for doubting. We all doubt - in fact, I wonder about those who never did.

If we look at Zecharaiah's and Mary's questions, there is a slight but important difference: Zecharaiah asks "how can I know," while Mary asks "how can this be". Perhaps the stories are trying to say that we should not try to know God's will, only to respect and follow it. Not sure I agree with that idea, but that's what I see in it.

Ben said...

I gotta disagree with you there, Jeff.

Your examples of Abraham and Moses aren't examples of doubt. And even Jacob's literal wrestling with God is more about dark seasons of the soul than skepticism.

As far as Kenny's main point, it's too bad that tone of voice is hard to translate on the written page. I think the difference between Zechariah and Mary might have been a difference between hubris and humility. The same question asked in different ways makes all the difference.

Jeff said...

That seems kind of like an outgrowth of what I was referring to. If we have the hubris to believe that we can know God's reasons and ways of doing everything, then we deserve the dumbstruckness that we get. But if we approach God with a willingness to learn that which God wishes to teach us, then we shall receive the answers. Or something.