This is beautiful, Matthew. Thank you. And that line about walking into your own intervention? funny-with-an-ouch - the best kind. These comments are rich, aren't they? See what good things you do??? Thanks for it all.
The Problem With Asking Questions About Faith…
In the eighth grade, after my Bible teacher explained his Baptist theology for how Jesus’s death and resurrection conquered the gates of Hell, I raised my hand and asked “then why do Baptists believe Hell still exists if Jesus conquered it”?
Did he just conquer part of it? Why didn’t he take care of the whole thing? Didn’t he technically create it?
My questions didn’t go over so well. But as far as I was concerned, inside my mind, my teacher’s answers didn’t go over well, either. Usually they only brought more questions.
Back then—at least among my spiritual kin—those who asked questions were considered troublemakers, trifling, and disruptive.
And perhaps I was all those things at times. But raising hell wasn’t my intent. I would have done just about anything to fit in, to be among the majority who simply believed our church’s doctrine without ever feeling the need to question it.
Today, those of us who ask faith questions are more welcomed among God’s family. Sometimes, depending on what kind of questions we ask and the spiritual environment we exist inside, we’re even accepted as an important part of the faith process. And for that, I am grateful.
But it’s still not easy. For many reasons.
For one thing, many Christians assume that those of us who ask questions are looking for answers. That we’re asking a question in hopes of gleaning new insight about a subject we’re clueless about. I don’t mind people telling me their answers. But my asking the question wasn’t to learn their answer. In most instances, I’ve heard the answer many times before. I just don’t buy the answer. My asking a question is simply a pursuit to engage dialogue, to hear how somebody came to their conclusions. I’m not looking for somebody to tell me what to believe. I just want to hear their story of faith.
Sometimes I ask questions in hopes of creating spiritual space for those of us without firm conclusions on a particular topic or idea. People insert God’s name into some very peculiar statements on occasion, statements they’re hoping that I’ll affirm with a nod or an “amen.” Sometimes the only polite response is to ask question.
Another problem with asking questions is timing. Timing is so important. I’ve learned that the hard way. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth on a myriad of occasions. And I’ve paid for it dearly. There’s a time for me to ask and there’s a time for me to keep my damn mouth shut and smile.
And sometimes we still don’t fit in. While questioners are more welcomed in today’s faith circles than when I was a kid, there’s still a certain stigma that some Christians like to put on us. I still get called a troublemaker. And my father still thinks I’m trifling sometimes. But people like me who have survived bad church experiences or spiritual abuse situations often get labeled as angry or “still lost in our past.” Which might be true in some cases. A person’s spirituality is the deepest part of their being. When that is abused, the effects are long and the healing processes are slow, muddied by doctrines and ideas that trigger all kinds of emotions.
“They treat me like I’m unfinished or incomplete.” That’s how a friend of mine described a small group experience. “I made the mistake of asking several questions about their understanding of the Creation story and suddenly I felt like everybody in the room wanted to lay hands on me and pray.”
I know that feeling. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned better how to navigate uncomfortable situations like that. But it’s not an easy road, mostly because there are still occasions when asking a question has left me feeling like I’d wandered into my own intervention, surrounded by good people try to fix whatever they think ails me. Of course, sometimes that feeling is a product of my own imagination and sometimes it’s indeed real. Because there are some Christian answers that many deem so fundamentally important that to question them is to denounce faith.
But for me at least, asking questions is a real necessary part of my faith. It’s not all of my faith, but it’s always present. Asking questions is how my head and heart was wired. I’m not saying it’s always a good thing. But it’s who I am. It’s how I was made. And it doesn’t mean I’m broken.
And if you want to question that, be my guest.
God is God enough to handle our questions. Truth does not depend on our ability to explain it. If we had all the answers, that would mean we have a very small God! Faith gives me the means to accept what I believe is Truth, whether I "understand" it, agree with it, or not. And with those questions or issues that I don't understand, I have no problem asking God the question and trusting Him to reveal the answer to me at some point -- or not.
“Asking questions is how my head and heart was wired.” Sir, you're saying everything I'm feeling and have been blogging about for a year or so. I'll probably be referring to this quite a bit. My credo is “I'm not an ideal Christian, I'm an actual one.” Often I do feel like questions I raise could get me excommunicated, but just because I question doesn't invalidate my Christianity. Good to know I'm not alone in opening up dialogues and making large groups of people accidentally uncomfortable. :-) God bless, Mark Chappelle
Matthew- you remind me so much of my middle son (he's now 38). Questions were his conversational tool. I'm afraid that too many times I cut him off when he barraged me with them. Thank God we now are asking all of them together, as a team!
"Walked into my own intervention..." I am rolling on the floor. I had one family member tell me my questions were from Satan and therefore sin. She started yelling at me on the phone in a deliverance style of prayer. Hence, we don't talk about things like that anymore.
There's asking a question because you don't understand, and then there's asking a question because you think you're Alex Trebek. One approach is great; one isn't.
I'm a Sunday school teacher of some amazing kids between 7 and 12 years old. I adore their questions, and keep a personal list of everything they ask me. I go back to it often. It's inspiring to see how their minds process and play with the Gospel. Personal favourites: If Jesus was Jewish, then did he believe in himself? When do you think he maybe started believing in himself? What does it mean to believe something? Isn't this cross that we have in our church just a regular shape unless Jesus is on it? We have stars in our stories, can we use the star of David as our symbol too? Should we play hangman (a spelling game kids play in school) if we're Christians, because doesn't that involve killing people? So, so many more. I think it's a beautiful thing, and it's exciting to see them connect things and point out inconsistencies; They're using and maximizing the beautiful, critical brain that God gave them to understand his Word within a community. I can't imagine seeing that as anything less than a blessing.
Christians, at least in my church experience, don't ask enough questions. I think it's because they're worried about not being pious enough. This makes sunday school extremely boring and awkward. Fortunately I get to hang out with some Christian thinkers one night a week at a local seminary that focuses on philosophy, which is a completely different world than church. Instead of looking at me like I have 3 eyes when I challenge a doctrine (or praying for me), they think hard about it, give a thoughtful response, and express doubts of their own.
One of the reasons people don't like questions is because they don't have a reasonable foundation for the groupthink answers they give. "Because God said so" is both wrong - someone else told you that God said so, and very likely to be something that God, in fact, never said. But questions are excellent pathways to understanding God and one another. Jesus asked questions all the time, both of His disciples and of His detractors. We should never fear asking or being asked because it's one of the most human things we can do.
"Back then—at least among my spiritual kin—those who asked questions were considered troublemakers, trifling, and disruptive." Not only these reasons, but more importantly, in my fundy experience, I was showing a tremendous lack of faith by questioning. During my Charisthmatic Fundy time, I was even being deceived by the evil one, satan. It got so bad that, I had loved ones who called me "reprobate." That's as bad as it gets. Those are the kind of people who do things like blaspheming the Holy Spirit or condoning gay marriage.
I was the kid who would ask "why?" all the time. I was shot down often enough that I stopped. As an adult, I was a professional Christian for many years and felt that I had to have all the answers... well that wasn't possible. Since leaving the professional ranks, I am so much more truthful in the fact that I have more questions than before and I am totally okay with that. Thank you for posting this.
I appreciate this more than I can express. I had questions that, as a child, I was too scared to ask. Death terrified me, because I figured the grave was the end of things, despite growing up in a church that preached otherwise. I played TAPS at funeral services in high school, and I remember vividly a time, as a freshman, standing behind the shed where the maintenance guys stored the lawnmower. It was noon on a late-winter day, and I waited for my cue to play. The preacher was reading from a pocket-sized book of last rites. And I felt so hollow on the inside, like what he was reading was a lie. I played the song and it felt like these were the last bitter notes on the end of life. Casket closed. Book closed. I had no idea where to go with my questions -- certainly not a PASTOR. Doubt felt like a failure. It's a long story that got me to the place where it felt safe to ask. Or, safe-ER anyhow. I do know that my husband and I have tried to create an environment with our girls where any question is safe to ask. I've also learned that it's okay when all I've got in response is this: "I don't know, girls. I just don't know. I don't." Thanks for your words.