FROM THE VAULT: The Problem With Questions

hot questionAs I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. This post originally appeared in September 2012 and addresses an issue that for many churches is, tragically, nothing short of sin – having doubts and asking questions.

Nothing makes you feel dumber than going to school.

At least that’s the case for me.

Seriously.

I can do all my assigned reading and spend time reflecting on the text, but that won’t always save me from staring blankly back at the professor when asked a question, or worse, answering incorrectly. That’s not to say there aren’t questions I’m asked that I do know the answer to, but there are few things more unnerving for me than being asked questions I don’t know the answer to.

You see, the problem with questions is that they expose us. They reveal us for who we really are, imperfect people who don’t know everything and who, in fact, don’t have nearly as much control over the world as we might want people around us to believe.

But for many Christians, this sort of situation isn’t acceptable.

Christian fundamentalism is built around the premise that because it has the Bible and believes in Jesus it holds and must hold all the answers in life. Therefore….

It knows everything about the Bible.

It knows everything about God.

It knows everything about salvation.

It knows everything about everything.

Which means there is no room for uncomfortable, difficult questions.

Questions that you or I might struggle with, such as how a loving God can allow such wasteful suffering from diseases like Alzhiemer’s, those sorts of seemingly unanswerable questions can only be addressed in one of two ways by the fundamentalist.

Either a horrendously unloving “answer” is given, explaining God’s unknowable, yet purposeful (and apparently evil) will.

Or…

The person asking the question is attacked for committing what is for fundamentalism the most grievous of sins: asking questions.

After all, nothing makes God more angry than being asked a question, right?

It might sound absurd, but such attacks are “necessary” because if fundamentalism can’t provide a definitive, succinct answer to every question asked of it, then it crumbles under the weight of its own hubris.

I think this problem with questions demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about Christianity.

Our inability to provide answers to all the questions asked about our faith isn’t necessarily a reflection of Christianity’s truthfulness. It’s a reflection of our finitude, of the fact that as created beings, we don’t have all the answers. It’s also a reflection of the fact that not all questions have answers, at least not this side of eternity.

While the Bible is certainly a source of truth, its authors ask just as many questions as we do and many times clear answers aren’t given.

If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read the book of Job.

Or Psalms.

Or Lamentations.

If such questioning in the Bible tells us anything, it’s that God isn’t afraid of being asked questions.

If anything, God welcomes questions. We may not always get the answer we like or get that answer in the timeframe we want, but God will not zap us with lightning if we ask.

Why?

Because Christianity, despite popular misconception, is not a call to blind faith.

Those who call their followers to blind faith do so because blind faith affords them absolute control over others. Questions have no place in such a world because they threaten that leader’s control. In other words, questions are condemned because they threaten to set the captive free.

Sound familiar?

Jesus certainly provided a lot of answers, but he asked just as many questions of religious leaders who thought they were in control and welcomed the questions that were asked of him.

Why?

Because Jesus doesn’t call us to blind faith. He calls us to a childlike faith and if you’ve spent any time around children, then you know how much they love to ask questions.

Why is the sky blue?

Why do I have a belly button?

Where do babies come from?

When, like children, we ask questions of about our faith, it’s not because we lack faith in God. Rather, it is because of our faith in God that we ask those questions. We ask because sometimes we can’t reconcile what we experience with what and Who we know to be true.

I think God wants us asking those sorts of questions because it demonstrates the sort of love for others God desires each of us to have.

At the end of the day, asking questions is fundamental to our humanity, it’s how we learn and grow. And if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s also part of what it means to be the people of God. The Bible, with all its answers, is a beautiful picture of an open and honest relationship between an imperfect people and a God who’s not afraid of those people asking tough questions and then turning to them ask tough questions in return about their own faithfulness, their own love for others, and why they aren’t doing more to make the world into the sort of place they want or need it to be.

Which means we shouldn’t stop asking questions about God.

Because God won’t stop asking questions about us.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • Liz

    One of the reasons I stopped going to Sunday School at my small church is because I appeared to be the only one asking questions in class. In addition, “discussion” of those questions amounted to everyone else in the class answering directly to me. No one else apparently struggled with anything–not life or its multitude of trials, or even discrepancies and problems within our own faith and church.

    • ZackHunt

      I totally understand. I haven’t been to Sunday School in years (other than the ones I taught) because 9 times out of 10 nobody really cared about having a conversation. Don’t get me wrong. I love socializing, but it would be nice to have a good conversation at church every once in a while too. :)

  • Karen

    I agree this is an excellent article for repost. Thanks!

    One observation (definitely not original with me) from an Orthodox perspective is that so much of modern Christendom, particularly those forms that originate in our peculiarly American context tend to express themselves more as ideologies, where the truly important thing is to have the “right opinion” about “what the Bible teaches.” Whereas, classically and historically, Christianity was seen by the earliest Christians (and still properly understood within Orthodoxy) as a way of life (i.e., built, not around concepts, but rather practices springing from, and designed to bring the repenting individual into, direct personal communion with the living Christ within His Church).

    One of the saddest experiences I ever had was when I was facilitating a women’s Bible study in the Evangelical church to which I belonged many years ago. We were using a workbook/guide that required the participants not only to read and understand the Biblical text, but to reflect on it in light of personal experience and begin to interpret and apply it. All of the women did an excellent job with this often accurately putting the truth from the Scripture in their own words and making great connections with their personal experience. The lone exception was a woman who had been strongly influenced by the Fundamentalist mindset you mention here. Like a child in school poring through a textbook in search of “right” answers to copy for a homework assignment or a test, all she would do is find the verse or verses of Scripture that applied to the question and write it in as her “answer.” This was heartbreaking for me to observe, since I knew the woman quite well personally and could see in many of her personal reactions to things in her life and in our culture that she totally missed, in many crucial ways, the whole meaning and implications of the grace of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ.

  • http://twitter.com/benjaminbwhite benjaminbwhite

    Great post man! I appreciate your balanced approach that isn’t afraid to wade into the pain while keeping your eyes heavenward. This is the kind of compassion we need of Jesus followers- one that imitates Jesus by walking into the quandaries of others. Thanks for your compassion & conviction!

  • http://twitter.com/Dryb0nz Trent DeJong

    Great post Zack. I appreciate you reposting this because I have only been following you for about 2 weeks.

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