When It Won't Add Up

By Kevin Budd

One of the most striking characteristics of the conversations and sayings of Jesus is the amount of explanation that he chooses NOT to provide. He is often referred to as a master teacher based on the frequency with which he used stories about common things in this world to illustrate and make clear deeper spiritual truth.  But sometimes he seems to intentionally obscure his meaning.  The interpretations of many parables are anything but clear, and have been the basis for differing opinions among Bible scholars for centuries. 


Sometimes clarity on a spiritual principle is of central importance.  But other times it seems that Jesus is primarily interested in securing a commitment to follow him that goes beyond what we can fully understand. 


Consider the things he says about discipleship, or following him.  In John 6:53, he says that ““Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” He never explains this to be a metaphor but he lets people walk away who clearly have misunderstood.  The end of Luke 9 is filled with what seem to be extreme calls for commitment, without explanation.  He tells a potential follower who says he needs to go bury his father to “Let the dead bury the dead . . . “ and to someone who wants to tell his family he is leaving, he says “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  He states in Luke 14 that no one can be a disciple unless you “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life.”  He even tells them that they must “carry their cross and follow” if they want to be a disciple. He says this well before he has been crucified, and his meaning was almost certainly unintelligible to his hearers.  In these texts, and others like them, Jesus seems to be addressing the question of complete surrender to him, not complete understanding of the specifics about which he was teaching.


I believe in God because I do not believe that there is any possible explanation for the universe as we find it apart from a Creator.  And I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and offered himself to pay for our sins because I believe that if there is a Creator, then he would reach out to us, and Jesus seems clearly to be the most likely one sent from the Creator.  So I am not suggesting that reason and evidence and understanding are not important.  I would not be a Christian if I had not concluded that these things are in fact true, reasonable, and are the best explanation of the facts.    


Reason, and understanding, and explanations are important.  But they are not enough. A transforming relationship with God requires more than that. Having weighed the evidence and decided that Jesus is who claimed to be, we are then called upon to accept whatever he says as absolutely true, whether we understand it or not.  He said that God loves the world enough to send his only Son.  He said that God knows how to give good gifts.  He said that the Scriptures are true in everything they say.  He said that God is good.  He said that nothing is impossible for God.  So we are expected as followers of Jesus to believe all those things.  And if something happens that we cannot square with the things he said, we are to assume that there is something that we do not yet fully understand.  Sometimes Jesus wants us to follow him, even when we do not understand what he is doing.  It is not very surprising that our little brains cannot not add up all of the actions of a God who is everywhere throughout all time past and future, knows all things without learning them, and has no limits on his power.  How could it be otherwise.   

To conclude, following Jesus will always involve following when I am not sure where we are going.  Trusting him will always include accepting some things I do not understand. It has never been any other way for any follower of Jesus. If we love him, then we will trust him.  And it is when we love and trust him that he can truly change our hearts.