Matthew 7:7-8 (NRSV)
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
One of Jesus’ better known sayings is “seek and ye shall find” that is rendered above in a fuller context and in the New Revised Standard Version rather than the more familiar King James Version. As I consider the three fold instructions of asking, searching and knocking as merely saying the same thing three different ways I will focus only on the searching/finding metaphor though my thoughts apply to each equally.
I have heard this passage preached and discussed many times in my life and almost always it gets treated as though Jesus is guaranteeing success in the way that Babe Ruth guaranteed a home run by pointing to the fence. Jesus does not specify what we should ask, seek or knock for but presumably it is something akin to recognizing the Kingdom of God or salvation. If Jesus is talking about something profound, like the kingdom or salvation, rather than something trivial like car-keys or socks then the kind of searching he is talking about is equally profound. In other words, I do not think Jesus is saying that if you go looking for your car-keys I guarantee you will find them. I don’t think Jesus is making that kind of guarantee even if we substitute the words “kingdom” or “salvation” for “car-keys” in the previous sentence.
I do not believe that the process of searching and finding, as Jesus uses it, refers to two different things. I think it refers to one thing. To search is to find. The path is the goal. The quest is the achievement. The attempt is the success. The search is its own reward. The search is not the reward in more trivial kinds of searches. When I have lost my car-keys I do not believe that searching for them is its own reward. If I cannot find them then my search was a failure. But I cannot say the same when I am searching for the kingdom or salvation or enlightenment. In those instances, the search is what it is all about. In a religious search, I cannot even say with clarity what I am searching for because it necessarily transcends my expectations and overturns my assumptions.
I could go further and suggest that in the way that Jesus says “search and you will find” he could just as well have said “find and you will search.” Because what we find in a religious quest is something that compels us towards more. I do not mean that it is like chasing the ever-receding horizon or never feeling good enough. I mean that when I find the kingdom or salvation or enlightenment, I cannot help but feel like what I had been searching for was inadequate. Once I find it then I know what to look for. When I make a religious find it always gives me a new way of living my life, a new path to live on, a new quest upon which to embark, a new search to begin.