by Sarah Van Diest @SarahVanDiest
Campfires & Merchant Ships
I tend to mix and merge my metaphors to the confusion of many a reader. Today is no exception. Evidence of a chaotic mind.
How do we ask the big questions, or rather, how do we decide what they are? What constitutes even the framework for deciding and determining if a question is big or not? When the answers are unknown, is there a way to conclusively determine which questions are the biggest? We tend to base a question’s relevance on its answer, because the answer is, in our minds, the point of the question.
Shakespeare spoke of love like a merchant ship: “Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken” (Sonnet #116). From afar it is measurable how deeply the ship rides in the water based on how heavy its cargo, but “heavy” doesn’t tell content. It could be heavy with gold or heavy with rotting bananas. We do not know the significance of the question until we know its answer. Or do we?
Nihilism says we cannot know, so we might as well not ask. It tells us that knowledge and truth do not exist, it’s all meaninglessness. Much of life as we live it from day to day is confusing. We are unable to make sense of why things happen. At moments like these we throw our hands up in the air and begin to agree with the nihilist, which is when despair sets in. Again, we value answers. We value understanding.
|The "why behind our quest is eerily biblical in nature.|
It is this point which I want to examine and for which offer an alternative perspective. The “why” behind our elevation of knowledge feels eerily biblical in nature. In other words, “In the beginning….” Our ancient quest for knowledge is just that: ancient. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was our desire. I don’t know why. Pride? I suppose. I’m not sure it matters at all. The fact of the story is we ate of the tree, and knowledge (and the quest for it) has been our god ever since. As bad as this sounds, I believe there is light in the darkness which we tend to miss.
“We should try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue” (Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet). This perspective is enchanting. The implication of this line is that the question is the foreteller of something magical, which is the answer, though it be unknown as of yet. Answers, even the ones we don’t like, are the other half to our questions. They may bring us something we were hoping for in the form of good news, or they may not, but answers bring us to the next point along the path. Questions, then, are something that hold promise. I like that.
Humanistically, this may be all we can wish for, an enjoyable, though sometimes frustrating, progression from one locked room or untranslated book to another. Einstein wrote of things yet unknown, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and science.” I love this sentiment; this description of the unknown which births creativity. There is a beyondness which knowledge by itself does not contain. There is something perpetuated by the unknown, by the asking and questioning, which holds more promise than any knowledge ever could.
|Questions are like campfires.|
Questions, which is what all of life’s circumstances ultimately are, are like campfires. They are like wells at the center of town. They are like the dinner table. Around these questions and circumstances of life we gather. We stop our other activities, our mundane tasks of surviving, and we focus. We come one at a time or in large groups, but the point is we come and meet our Father at these gathering places, even if we are unaware of His presence. If we are “awake” (read Gregory Boyd, Present Perfect for more on this idea), we sit with Him around the campfire (the question or life circumstance) and talk, argue, cry, we even wrestle with Him, we debate, we listen, and we learn. We abide.
That is the value of questions. Not the vain and empty promise of answers or knowing more, but the hope of knowing Him more. The thing perpetuated by our desire to ask and question, that “beyondness,” is this: abiding with the Father.
The purpose of life? This is one of the big questions, if the not the biggest. To me, and in my way of seeing the world, I imagine the purpose of each life is those campfire moments. It is not the cargo our ship carried, as in the answers to the questions of life, but in the gathering of the cargo...in the asking and answering of the questions. With whom did we sit around the campfires and discuss, wrestle and learn? With whom did we collect our bars of gold or rotting bananas? How rich was that time together? How deep is our relationship with our Father because of that time spent in the gathering/in the asking? How good was it to abide with Him along the way?
In this way, I may be nihilistic. I do not think we will know all in our lifetime, nor do I think our temporal knowledge and understanding will make a difference in any ultimate sense, but I don’t think that means we should stop asking questions. Implanted in us is a desire to seek and a hope to find. Our Father promises to be there when we search for Him. “…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” (Acts 17:26-28).
Does the answer really determine the significance of the question, or is the significance found elsewhere?
Keep on asking…live the question! Enjoy the Father.
Doesthe answer determine the significance of the question or is significance found elsewhere? @SarahVanDiest (Click to Tweet)
Educated as a teacher, Sarah taught school for nearly 20 years. As a young woman, she lived in China amid the rice paddies and water buffalo near Changsha, and then later taught English in Costa Rica for four years and raised her two sons.
Sarah is married for the second time, the mother of 2 boys and the step-mother to 3 more. She and her husband, David, work together in their agency The Van Diest Literary Agency. Her full name is Sarah Ruth Gerke Van Diest. She’s 5’5” and cuts her hair when stress overtakes her.
She is a freelance editor (including a New York Times and USA Today bestseller), blogger (The Write Conversation) and writer for hire. Her first book releases with NavPress in 2018.