What Is It?


Questions Without Answers


I remember playing a party game as a kid (though I’m not sure it was an official party game). The victim (or contestant, rather) would be blindfolded and given an item of food to try. Sometimes it was various flavors of baby food, sometimes it was random items from the kitchen (and I do mean random). Regardless of the selected smorgasbord awaiting testing, the end result was always the same. Each contestant was told whether their guess was correct or incorrect and what it was they’d actually placed on their palate. The mystery was revealed, the secret divulged.

I think of several million Hebrews camping out in the Wilderness. And God, to humble them, let them go hungry. And then in order to help the sons of Israel understand that bread was not to be their only nourishment, He sustained them on a mystery.

A mystery.

Every day as they gathered the honey-like wafers, they repeated the same question, “Manna.” The Hebrew word for “manna” (mân) is literally interpreted as “What?” or “Who?” So when the Hebrews declared, “It is manna” they were actually inquiring, “What is it?” The blindfold never came off their eyes and the secret to their sustenance was never disclosed. Some lived and died never knowing what they had eaten for 40 years, though they had asked the same question for over 14,000 days in a row.

And he humbled you and let you go hungry, and then he fed you with that which you did not know nor did your ancestors know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone but by all that goes out of the mouth of Yahweh humankind shall live.
— Deuteronomy 8:3 (Lexham English Bible)

I sort through a thousand broken things, trying to make sense of a myriad of unfinished stories. And I know that the answers to my queries will probably never be found. I will eat manna for the rest of my life, asking every time that another wafer is placed to my lips, “What is this?”

Yesterday I visited a monument to our nation’s history. While touring the USS Missouri and the memorial to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, one speaker at the beginning of the Pearl Harbor documentary assured us that, no doubt, what we would see would raise questions in our minds. But, she continued, we could take our questions to a park ranger at the close of the presentation and our uncertainty would be satisfied.

And tears streamed and soaked my face as the story spilled out across the screen — tears as salty as the sea in which the soldiers lie buried, trapped and entombed in the USS Arizona. I knew full well that a searching spectator with a soul spewing with a thousand questions would not be satisfied with answers from a park ranger. The unsettling runs deeper than the sorrow stirred up by the deaths of thousands of men I never knew.

I know full well that my questions don’t have answers. From anyone.

I’m to be sustained on the mystery.

This is hard. The ache is unlike anything I’ve faced in my entire life. I gulp and gasp and sputter and try to find places to breath. I’ve opened my mouth wide, and He has filled it with bitter gall. But I choose to drain this cup dry, this drink that has no name, this tonic that is enigmatic.

This isn’t what I thought it would taste like. But I drink it anyways because it is by saturating myself in this mystery that I will come to taste the words which proceed out of the mouth of God. And in those words, the mystery finds its meaning.

Those words are only found in our unknowing state of searching. May we each dive deeply into the depths of our own questions and there prove God to sustain and support us, not in spite of the mystery, but because of it.

There are questions... to which I do not think I have an answer. There are some to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: ‘What is that to thee? Follow thou me.’
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Image credit: Merilee Barnard, Laie, Hawaii