Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Questions About Questions

'Question mark sign' photo (c) 2008, Colin Kinner - license:
One of our defining characteristics as humans is our ability to ask questions—the who, what, where, when, why, how and to what extent of everything we experience. We’re wired to want to know more than meets the eye.

We can see a situation and immediately imagine it being better, or different than it is. We like to rewrite history in our heads and play out scenarios that could have been, tracing ulterior tangents that would have taken us down completely different roads.

This peculiar part of us has led to unimaginable problem-solving and progress. Asking questions has brought about clear solutions to complex issues. It has helped us build strong bridges. Develop cures for diseases. Create phones that double as computers in the palms of our hands. Questions are good.

But throughout history, questions have also left a trail of carnage, spiritually speaking. Ever since Satan planted the doubt of “Did God say?” in Eve’s mind, questions have played a role in shipwrecking the faith of many souls. We live in a time of unprecedented access to intelligent, eloquent, persuasive attacks on the Bible and Christianity. It doesn’t take much reading of what is out there to start doubting everything you believe. (I won't even go into what this means for us as parents!)

I have sat across the table from many dear Christian friends who were being haunted by their own garden variety “Did God say?” questions, their faith being rocked off its foundation before my very eyes. Questions as basic as whether there’s a God at all. Questions about whether the Bible is true. Questions about the creation and consummation of all things. Questions about the coexistence of God’s love alongside suffering, or evil.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where questions fit into the Christian faith. Are questions a virtue, or a vice? Are Christians who never ask one question somehow holier than those who do? How far should we go in questioning things not seen? And where should we go to ask questions the Bible doesn’t directly address?

I’m confident that the Bible can sustain our deepest questions—and it models how to ask them. But it doesn’t answer all of them. There’s a big difference. The book of Job contains a raft of unanswered questions. The Psalms are filled with perplexities that don’t give us nice, neat conclusions. God has given us all we need for life and godliness. But the Holy Spirit has inspired countless questions throughout Scripture. Which brings me to what I believe to be my answer.

Should we ask questions? I say yes. It’s quite common for us to go through seasons where we’re perplexed, discouraged and full of doubt. To suppress the questions is to prolong the inevitable, because you’ll eventually have to face them if you ever hope to progress past them.

So what makes the difference between questions that serve to deepen our faith and those that serve to destroy it?

I think a lot of it is who you ask and how you ask them. Are you earnestly laying your deepest questions at the Lord’s feet? Are you echoing the psalmist’s intimacy and honesty with God, who said over and over, “How long, O Lord?”

Even in our perplexities, God is honored when we wrestle with Him in the night watches, putting away our pointed finger and bowing our knee in humble submission to Him as the source of every answer.

When we come to Him for help, we’re acknowledging that He is the only One who is gracious enough to understand our deepest questions, and wise enough to answer them. Even questions can be an act of worship when we ask them in His presence, drawing near to Him and desperately seeking Him for answers.

I don’t claim to have this figured out, and would welcome your comments below.


  1. Scott - you have such a good heart. Do you know that about yourself? You are earnest, in the very best sense of that word and I am grateful for your words in this space every time I come. And I am with you - questions are important and they are necessary. I don't think it is ever the act of questioning that is problematic in and of itself. Being honest enough with ourselves and asking others to be honest in response is a good thing to do. And that's what is usually at the bottom of most good question-asking, don't you think? And God asks tons of questions in scripture - check it out some time!

    I had a paragraph in my self-introductory first post over at the new Deeper Family site (up tomorrow!) that I took out because the piece was too long and this info seemed extraneous, but it answers your queries a bit: "Perhaps I’m here because I am both a questioner - always searching, stretching, wrestling - and an encourager, having lived through many of life’s toughest and most interesting situations. I can tell you that at this point in the journey, I have reason to believe that God thoroughly enjoys a good wrestle! And I know that one of our primary calls as Jesus-followers is to encourage those coming up the road behind us. I will try to do a little of both - wrestle hard and encourage frequently - because I am profoundly grateful for this place. I am grateful for the grace bubbling up on every page and for the courage to dive below the surface of how-we-always-do-it practiced by all those who write here."

    And that's the truth - I am profoundly grateful for places that encourage honest seeking - that is how we meet God, that is how we explore the fullness of life. Look up that Rilke quote I've used all over the web - it's one I had outside of my office for 17 years because I believe it so strongly. Check this post and scroll to the very bottom for a photo of my calligraphied version of it:

  2. As a pastor I have observed the challenge of allowing questions. For many pastors they seem threatened by questions. Perhaps they do know what they think they know or they are fearful of confusing people or...

    Many years ago a pastor told his Bible class: “Ask you questions freely. I will answer all of them except the stupid questions.” A few minutes later a woman raised her hand and asked the question. The pastor responded: “That’s a stupid question.” And he moved on. Needless to say there were never any more questions.

    I tell all who attend Bible study with me (now for more than 30 years): Ask questions. If you don’t I will! But then I add that if you have a question but are afraid to ask, you can be sure that in a group of 20 at least 3-4 others have the same question. So ask freely.

    I am mentoring several pastors and one of them was surprised when I told him something about my own pastoral ministry. He was shocked, because he was afraid that he was the only one who had experienced that questioning of himself and God.

    Even if someone asks a question who seems to be trying to set a trap (and that has happened), I will still answer the question because others may legitimately have the same question from a sincere motive.

  3. I was brought up in a cult where questioning was regarded as the ultimate sin. The reason given as to why nobody was allowed further education than high school, was that universities taught people to question. I never got to the thought of questioning God, because the questioning of those in authority over me was so very firmly squashed that that concept never occurred to me!
    And lo and behold... I'm a questioner. I was born that way. I want to know why! And how! And if asking one person doesn't give me an answer I'm satisfied with, I'll ask someone else, and read books about it and pray and ask more people and wrestle with that question until I get an answer. So, as you may have guessed, I'm not still in that cult :)
    So I regard the ability to question as almost sacred.
    I take my questions to God, and sometimes He answers me and sometimes He doesn't. Wherever I read in the Bible, God wants people to be real and honest with Him, and come to Him with their whole hearts. And I figure that includes questions. If we're thinking them, we may as well say them, because He knows our hearts already. So just be honest! I agree with Diana, that God enjoys a good wrestle...


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