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A question about questions

April 4, 2012

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.


From → Christianity

  1. david worley permalink

    This particular blog reminds me of some interactions with folks who don’t mind asking questions. But, for them, the issue is they don’t like the answers. Or they don’t believe the answer is complete. I believe we are free to ask any question. But if we expect a particular answer then we are likely to be disappointed. And it strikes me as interesting how some people can be fine with science unable to answer all of their questions but expect God should provide all the answers.

  2. I think when people ask questions there are two basic motivations. They are either looking for answers or they have already made up their minds against what we say and are simply challenging us. In that secod category people will, as you say, David, not like our answers no matter what they are.

    In the first position information seekers may also not like our answers and may differ with us. But honest questions need honest answers. We should not let their disagrement with us hinder us. Indeed, such people may end up challenging our assumptions, which is good.

    There is a third category of questioners, the hurting. When those who are hurting ask questions they may indeed express that they want God to answer. But, at the core, what they want is comfort not knowledge so I tend to avoid theological discussions and focus on that.

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