Understanding Through Confusion

by: Dr. Rami Nader


We live in an information age. If you have a question, a few keystrokes in a search engine can come up with an instant answer to any query. We have gotten so used to having information fed to us when we want it, that it can be terribly frustrating when there is no simple explanation or answer to our questions. We want fast answers and quick solutions to make life seemingly easier, but is this a good thing?

What happens when there are no quick answers or easy solutions?

This made me reflect on why Jesus seems to make things so complicated. In Matthew 13, Jesus’ disciples approach him and ask him why he teaches using parables, stories and analogies without explaining them. And Jesus answers in an even more perplexing way, stating, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Huh? Why does this have to be so complicated and confusing? Why the mind-boggling riddles? If he has the answers, why doesn’t he just explain it simply in a way we can all understand? This is what we are used to and what would seemingly be the most simple and effective way of teaching.

In therapy, there is a term called guided discovery, which is an approach I typically use with clients. When a person struggling with anxiety or depression comes to see me, I can often tell what is maintaining their distress and how to make changes to feel better. But the process of therapy is more than just giving simple answers and recommendations; it is a process thru which I guide the client to help discover the answers to their own questions, without spoon-feeding them information. When you have to think about things for yourself, you process the information at a deeper level and develop a greater understanding than you would by just having information presented to you.

Jesus’ parables and teachings were meant to be confusing, because in that confusion we develop a deeper understanding of his teachings. It is only when we struggle to comprehend and have to think more profoundly that we can be open to genuine understanding. God was never meant to be easily understandable. I do not think we can ever feel like we have “figured out” God. Rather, I think our relationship with God needs to be one of guided discovery, where we question, think about and actively seek a greater understanding of God and how He would want us to live our lives. And with this, we need to also accept that we may never really figure it out or have our questions answered. But maybe growing in faith is not about having questions answered, but rather the process of seeking out the answers.

This is generally not the way our society likes to operate. We want quick answers, simple solutions - Understanding Jesus for Dummies. But there is nothing about Jesus that is quick, simple or easily understood, nor do I think there should be. Jesus’ teachings may not provide simple answers, but they allow for a lifetime of learning. I do not fully comprehend everything about Jesus, but it is because I do not fully understand that I continue to seek. Through seeking and trying to understand, I learn more about Jesus on a deeper level. And isn’t that the whole point of faith?

(Article appeared in the Spiritually Speaking Column of the North Shore News on September 5, 2008)