It’s okay to have more questions than answers
Jonathan Rowe, 5 March 2023
Romans 4:1–5, 13–17; John 3:1–15
If you go on a journey, among the things you might need is a map. It helps us find the right path.
There’s a very straightforward connection between a map and the world of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. In order to help the people of God live in the right way, the Pharisees had developed lots of rules. In many ways, these rules were like having a map for life. They helped people live well with God.
Nicodemus was a teacher of these rules. But Jesus tells him that he’s teaching the wrong thing. For Nicodemus, the important thing was being born into the right family, and then living as a member of that family would be expected to live.
But Jesus says neither the family nor the rules are key. Instead, people need to be born ‘from above’ or ‘a second time’.
What does this mean? Jesus explains that to live well with God, rather than using a map, people need to be ‘born of water and spirit’. What does water do? Water cleanses. What does the wind do? It blows. You don’t see it, but you can see its effects. So, the Spirit’s life bubbles up within us, a new force in our lives.
Being born of water and spirit was an idea that Nicodemus should have recognised. It comes from Ezekiel 36:25–27: ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and … I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.’ By saying that people need to be ‘born from above’ or ‘born again’, Jesus says that God is the source of life.
By saying that people need to be ‘born from above’, Jesus says that God is the source of life.
Jesus is quite sharp with Nicodemus. In this passage we don’t hear from him again. But he reappears twice more in the gospel. And what we see is an encouragement to those of us who are not quite sure of the language of ‘being born again’, especially if we understand it not so much as Jesus meant it but as a stark change of direction and a particular sort of certain faith.
In John 7:45–52, Nicodemus’ colleagues want to condemn Jesus without a fair trial. There’s no evidence Nicodemus is a disciple. But he challenges the other Pharisees not to prejudge him.
In John 19:39, Nicodemus brings precious spices for Jesus’ body. Again, there’s no explicit evidence Nicodemus is a disciple. But he’s clearly willing to be with Jesus at his death.
There are two lessons here for us. First, while all journeys start with a first step, the first step is not the same as the last step. Our journeys take time; there are twists and turns. This is the same for the journey of faith. It’s okay not to be sure, to have more questions than answers. In any case, the important thing is to get hold of God, not the answer.
Second, wanting to stick with Jesus, even when things are difficult. St Paul had a similar attitude: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3:10). I like that ‘somehow’!
St Paul was fond of answers. But even he didn’t ‘get’ everything. There was mystery alongside his confidence. So it can be for us. Like Nicodemus, we do well to stay close to Jesus, taking one step at a time on our journey, confident not in following a map, but in God’s love. After all, the very next verse after our Bible reading is the most famous one in the whole Bible: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. Amen.