The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and…try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Jesus, though divine, was born into a fallen human world and had lived a life of questioning and being questioned from the moment of his conception. His mother asked the angel, “How can this be?” As Jesus grew, he questioned the elders in the temple, he questioned his parents and they questioned him. John the Baptist questioned Jesus when he came to him for baptism. So it was probably no surprise that after forty days in the desert, he would be questioned once more.
Surely Satan’s questions were no more challenging than the questions he had been asking himself about his ministry, his mission, his message. The questions of the desert would prepare him for a public life of questioning in the marketplace, in the temple and finally on the cross. Jesus is able to respond to the questions of the Tempter because he knows the genuine love of God supported by a faith made strong in suffering, in need and in questioning.
Like Jesus, we must live both the struggle of the questions and the faith of the answers. Our temptations aren’t likely to come to us from a mysterious figure in a deserted place. But often they revolve around the same basic human drives: hunger, emotional security, safety, status, ambition.
Some lie awake too many nights wondering if they’ve made the right choices for their lives, their careers. Others question whether a successful position with a company engaged in questionable ethical practices is a compromise they’re willing to make. Many people fight against the demon of self-doubt and insecurity, afraid they don’t deserve more than the bad hand they’ve been dealt in life.
Sometimes the questions themselves are coming from God, asking us to make life-giving changes in our lives. It’s the easy answers that are the temptation, the decisions that seem to bring happiness and success but are really driving us further away from our center. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, if we reach for the first thing that promises us health and wealth, we might be in bigger trouble than we imagined.
The responses Jesus gives to his tempter are deeply rooted in the words of Scripture. He’s not rattling off memorized verses. He’s speaking out of a lived awareness of the power of the word of God.
Lent is the perfect time to deepen our own immersion in Scripture. The story of God’s undying care for the people he has chosen as his own can mirror the stories of our own lives. The Psalms are a good place to begin. Let the words wash over you. Let them speak to the situations and emotions of your daily life. The words of the Gospels challenge us to a life of Christ-like compassion. The prophets of the Old Testament remind us to put God first before anything else.
The Word has its own power to move us and inspire us and to remind us of God’s presence. It is this power that is, in the end, the answer.