How many of you have sat down, listened to someone talk, and had a question? Something that they said, some word that they used,pricked your brain and you wanted to ask about it. Maybe you weren’t quite clear on what they meant and you wanted some clarification. There could have been some new idea tossed out in the midst of a conversation or speech, and you wanted to dig a little deeper. Perhaps the implications of what was discussed were rather vague and you wanted to get a more specific answer.
Have you ever wanted to ask a question?
It may seem only natural to ask questions. Most of us do. If we meet someone new, we ask who they are, what their name is. When we get pulled over by the police, we ask if there is something wrong. When we see a friend or coworker that has just returned from vacation, we ask how it was and wonder if they enjoyed themselves. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Asking questions is a part of our normal, everyday life. I would even go so far as to say that it is nearly impossible for anyone to go a whole 24 hours without asking a question. But if asking questions is such a normal part of our lives, something that we do everyday, why do we avoid doing that when we are at church?
When I was growing up, as a pastor’s son, asking questions in church was unheard of. That just wasn’t something you did. There was no room for questions. Not questions about the Bible, not questions about Jesus or God or anything relating to your faith, and most definitely no questions about what the pastor just preached about. When you were told something, that was it. It shouldn’t have needed any clarification, and you should have just accepted it the way it was. In the church I grew up in, I would go so far as to say that there were people that thought it was wrong to ask questions.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure that if you looked around your church, your community group or bible study, there are people that have a real problem with asking questions. Now this could be a result of a person’s upbringing. There was a time where questions were a sign of doubt or disbelief. So if you had a question, especially about the Bible or Jesus, it was seen as a bad thing. I am not trying to attack previous generations, at least not the people. But I feel that they are missing out on something because of this attitude towards questions.
I think that asking questions, especially questions about our faith, the Bible, Jesus, and God, is essential to our religion, that it is a critical part of Christianity. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. If you were to take a look, the Scriptures are packed full of people asking questions. Even God and His Son asking them of us.
The old Sunday School chorus goes like this,
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord”
It was a simple and silly song, but makes for an excellent starting point. As a father shows his sons how to live and act in the world, so Abraham, a man described as the father of the Christian faith, showed us how we can and should ask questions in our faith journey.
“He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”” – Genesis 15.7-8 NIV
“When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lordsaid, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so greatand their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more.What if only ten can be found there?”He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”” – Genesis 18.16-32
Throughout Abraham’s life, questions are asked. Most surprising may be this, of the questions that we see Abraham asking, all of them were directed at God. They weren’t questions about God, like we ask in Sunday School or bible study. They weren’t things that we had pondered after listening to the pastor speak. Abraham was going to God and asking Him questions. They may have taken the form of a prayer, a supplication as the Apostle Paul said. Sometimes Abraham asked questions as part of his conversations with God. When Abraham was lacking a child to inherit all that God had promised, Abraham asked God a question. When Abraham did not understand the actions that God was going to take, he asked a question.
What is fascinating is that in all of these instances, God is not bothered by them. When Abraham questions God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, God doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t ask Abraham to be quiet or to wait for a more convenient time. God doesn’t tell him that it will all be explained after he dies and makes it to heaven.
That last idea of God’s response is an answer that many of my questions about God, the Bible, and faith have been met with. Personally, it infuriates me, but God doesn’t give Abraham a pat answer or brush him off. God welcomes the questions from Abraham. I believe that God welcomes the same kinds of questions from us.
There are times that we do not understand why God is doing this or why He is not doing that. Feel free to ask. Go to God with your questions and your concerns. He will gladly hear them. God is not threatened by your questions. They were part of the regular interaction for our father Abraham. They should be a normal part of our faith conversations as well.
But if our father Abraham and the actions that he took in his relationship with God does not convince you that asking questions is a good thing, consider Jesus. We do not normally think of Jesus as a questioning type, but a closer look at his life and teachings reveal otherwise.
“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” – Luke 2.41-46
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”” – Matthew 16.13-16
It is a strange thing to think about our God becoming flesh, putting on human skin and walking on the Earth. But that is at the centre of our faith. Jesus came down to Earth, was born of the Virgin Mary and lived in the nation of Israel for some 30 years. But what is amazing is that Jesus asked questions. He sat in the Temple and wanted to learn things. That idea in itself is astonishing. But the fact is that Jesus was not scared to grow in knowledge. Jesus did not stop with just wondering about something and keeping it inside. He asked his questions. And it was a good thing. No one was upset that He had questions. No one stopped him from seeking more knowledge.
He asked the disciples questions as a way of discerning what they knew. Asking them who they thought that He was offered him the opportunity to see where they were at. Were these men moving towards a faith in Jesus? Were they willing to take the risk and trust that He was indeed the Messiah? The easiest and most effective way to discern this was to ask questions. I’ve seen pastors or professors do this. When they are trying to see how much a member of the congregation or student knows, they will often be asked a question. What do you think of this? How do you understand this passage of Scripture?
By asking a question, the heart and its intentions are revealed. The mind and its thoughts are exposed in this simple act. Though some people may use it for nefarious purposes, the wise and good teachers and preachers will use this to help those under their tutelage and authority. With these questions, and the responses given, both parties can move towards greater knowledge, and deeper unity and community. Asking questions offers us a bridge to get to know one another, to understand where we are at in our spiritual journeys and to move on together from there.
That is one of the most encouraging things. When I realized that Jesus had questions, that he didn’t shy away from letting his thoughts and wonderings be known, I found out I was free to do the same. When I understood that asking questions was a good and reasonable way to assess and move forward in relationships with members of my congregation or other people that I interacted with, I was empowered in a way I hadn’t been before.
In the life of Abraham and Jesus, I see good evidence for the spiritual practices of asking questions. They wondered and pondered things out loud, and I’m sure also, quietly inside.
This is not something to be condemned in the church, especially when the father of our father and the Author of our faith practiced this throughout their lives. It wasn’t something they did only as children and then abandoned upon adulthood. Asking questions was something that they continued to pursue until the end of their days on Earth. If we look at the life of Jesus as the example we are to emulate, there is no reason why we should shun those that ask questions, or stop ourselves from asking our own.
Some may say that there should be a time and a place for asking questions, and I would agree. I would never suggest that you should start yelling questions in the middle of a sermon on Sunday, or blurt out your thoughts so to interrupt a bible study.
In some case, churches will make room for questions after sermons. Other times, that is what bible studies are built around—the week’s sermon and the questions that it provoked in you. While this is not the case for everyone, I’m sure that should not discourage you from asking your questions. Parents, friends, loved ones; these are people that want to be a part of your life and will gladly hear what you have to say, even if they do not understand or have the answers for you. And if all else fails, if there is no one in your community, in your circle of friends to help, you can always email me.
Here at Christian Thought Sandbox we welcome the questions. We are excited to hear about what the Bible made you think or what science made you question. We are here to give you space to ask and ponder and see where your questions will take you. We can’t promise all the answers, or that we will always be right. But we firmly believe that all people should be free to ask their questions about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity without rebuke or condemnation. We believe that asking questions is a necessary step in Christian maturity.
So, go ahead. Ask your questions.