A question about questions
It is called “The Great Departure”, the reality that somewhere upwards of 60% of Christian young people these days walk away from the church in their 20s. In his fascinating book You Lost Me Dave Kinnaman explores why they are leaving. He gives six primary reasons that his research shows for this departure and, for me, the most interesting is that they consider the church “doubtless.” One young woman, Rachel Evans, records on her blog that she left church because “my questions were seen as liabilities.”
I recall being taught that, as I matured in faith, my doubts would grow less and less and that my goal would be to, indeed, be doubtless. We once had a former missionary at our home as a guest and listened to her tell a group of us the tragic tale of her husband’s murder on the mission field. As she told it, and it was clear we were hearing a speech she had given many times before, we were all struck by the fact that she was so calm. One guest asked her “Didn’t you ever cry ‘Why did you do this God?’” She replied in horror “Oh no! God knows what He is doing and we should never question Him.” As I sit here I can think of several other examples of “great faith” where I was taught that we should never question God.
It seems as if we have reached a stage where a core teaching of faith – never doubting – is becoming a primary reason young people leave the church. This leads me to the question as to whether a faith that never questions is indeed the right goal.
We can look at passages in the Bible, indeed some entire books, and find that a great many people express doubts and objections. Sometimes they express them with great vehemence. At times their doubts have become stories of “what not to do” in our faith, just ask “Doubting Thomas.” I wonder if there is a running scorecard in heaven where the number of “Don’t be like Thomas” sermons gets logged?
But at other times the Bible records these doubts and questions pretty much at face value; almost as if God just deals with them in a matter-of-fact way. Does this mean that God is OK with doubts and questions? And when is a question good? Or bad? What are the rules?
Well, it is Holy Week and poor Thomas will be getting scolded in pulpits across this great land yet again. We will look at his questioning and snicker, glad we are not like him. But for me the key question that was asked during this week that gives me a clue to this doubting thing comes not from Thomas but from Jesus. “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Matthew 27:46. Here is Jesus asking God an agonized question. Doesn’t He know why this is happening? Of course He does. So why the question? And what clues does it give us about questions? Here are some thoughts.
– Questions flow from pain. Agony, heartache and sorrow cause us to cry out, questioning why it must be so.
– Questions show we know that something is wrong. When we face injustice or inexplicable events our hearts know it should not be this way and questions come.
– Questions are calls for mercy. Even when we know God is in control; even when we trust Him fully; questions are our way of expressing how much it hurts.
I suppose I am happy for that woman missionary who lost her husband, that she could be so question-free. But the question Jesus asked from the cross tells me it is OK to have a few of my own.