The Value of Ambiguity

Jesus doesn’t answer a lot of quesitons…not directly anyway.

Have you noticed that? Almost every time someone comes to him with a question (and this happenes a LOT in the gospels), he responds with another question… or he tells a story… or he gives a response that doesn’t answer the original question…or that even turns the original question on its head.

There is a certain genius in the way Jesus interacted with people who claimed to be looking for truth. Sometimes, he realized that people’s questions were the wrong ones, and he insisted that they ask more relevant quesitons. On other occasions, he sent people on deeply personal journeys of thought and reflection rather than simply TELLING them an answer. Stories, parables, and strategically ambiguious responses often do much more to lead people to truth because they cause people to seek out the truth themselves.

Truth that is discovered through wrestling, puzzlement, and experience is much richer, much more textured, than something that is spoon-fed in clear, albeit quaint and two-dimensional, statements of fact.

I say all of this because, somehow, in my spiritual journey, I never learned to value ambiguity. Instead, I always wanted to be the answer guy. I wanted to be able to tell people who God is, what he wants from us, and why. Instead of helping those around me on their own quest for truth, I often tried to force my own limited ideas about truth down everyone else’s throats.

Questions that demand simple answers are often cold and inadequate. Why not learn to respond to them in stories, poetry, song, or even puzzles? Truth, deep, truth can never be reduced to a bullet-point list or a simple statement. It can only be experienced after much wrestling and grappling, often steeped in self-examination and wonder at the mysteries of God.

In a culture that is increasingly skeptical about Christians’ claims to truth, the last thing that is needed is a generation of spiritual know-it-alls who try to force feed cold, often overly-simplistic ideas about God on everyone else. Perhaps, instead, we need to return to Jesus example – one that respected truth that transceds “answers”; one that recognizes peoples’ need to wrestle with and encouter truth.

What do you think?


2 Responses to The Value of Ambiguity

  1. Jonathan Sharp says:

    “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

    This verse has only recently (like the last few years) become meaningful for me, because I, like you, was dissatisfied with ambiguity. I am still learning to value the mystery that is all around us and that defines our relationship with God, but I think I am learning to embrace it and even value it, because in the mystery I can get perhaps a glimpse of how great and wise God is.

    So anyway, I guess what I am saying is that I have this whole mystery thing figured out.

  2. Matt says:


    I heard something a few weeks ago that was really helpful to me. Basically, the ideas is that God HAS to be bigger than anything we can fully comprehend. If we do not understand that, and we decide to follow/worship a God that we fully understand, then we are practicing idolatry. Without allowing for the unknown, we worship something less than God himself.

    I think that is the reason that scripture emphasizes God’s holiness again and again. It is a reminder that there is more to God than we think, and that – while embracing what we DO know – we must also respect and revere that which still remains a mystery.

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