God Can Handle Your Questions

As a journalist, I make my living asking questions. 

Questions are important. Questions are vital to our lives because, as limited humans, we don’t know everything we need to know, and we don’t know most of the things we want to know.

A lot of times in journalism and reporting, it’s about asking the right question, not necessarily the right amount of questions. A journalist at the White House recently got in trouble for asking the president supposedly “too many” questions, and while I won’t get into the politics here, I can see both sides’ frustrations in that issue. Sometimes you can be pesky and ask the wrong questions and be obnoxious.

Recently, I’ve been asking a lot of questions of God, particularly as it relates to the Bible, Christian culture and my personal choices and experiences in life. I won’t get into those questions here — maybe someday — but it’s caused me to think about how we in the church handle people questioning God.

For many, I believe, church isn’t the place where difficult questions can be asked safely. Questions like “How can I be saved?” and “Can I join the church?” are pretty easy to handle, I think, but there are some that we as a body of Christ don’t always do a good job responding to well, particularly when it comes to doubts over the reliability of the Bible and certain political positions.

As I’ve wrestled with questions of my own, I’ve come to one particular answer: God can handle our questions. He can handle when we doubt Him. He isn’t put off by us wondering whether or not He’s right. In fact, as we can see in a few passages of Scripture, He isn’t despondent or critical when we wonder whether or not He’s all He claims to be. He’s the exact opposite.

The Meat and the Fleece

The story of Gideon is fairly well-known if you’ve been in church for a while, but I’ll give the short version.

In Judges 6, God is shown to be pretty upset at Israel, His chosen people, so he gives them over to the military might of the Midianites and Amalekites. One day, “the angel of the LORD,” often believed to be Jesus Himself, comes to a guy named Gideon (v. 11), and tells him that he will lead the army of Israel against Midian. 

Twice, Gideon asks God to show him a sign. First, in v. 17-24, the angel of the LORD sets meat and cakes on fire via supernatural spontaneous combustion from a rock. Then in v. 36-40, God twice made a fleece wet with dew while keeping the ground around it dry.

God had spoken to Gideon and directly told him, “Hey man, you’re going to lead the army of Israel against Midian, your country’s oppressors, and I’m going to give you the victory.” 

But my man Gideon — seeing himself as “the least in (his) father’s house” and part of the “weakest” clan in his country (v. 15) — doubted. He asked God question after question, even put Him to the test with the fleece. Both times, God answered Gideon’s questions. In the next chapter, God used Gideon and 300 men to defeat a whole army of Midianites. It was the original 300.

This is not the only time in Scripture God responds to questions of those He calls. 

I think also of Moses in Exodus 3 — “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Then there’s Jeremiah in the first chapter of his eponymous book —“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 

All of these men questioned God’s call on their lives, His specific, pointed direction for their future. But instead of belittling them and ignoring them, He went a step further and spoke directly to their fears. God Himself even initiated physical contact with a man (Jeremiah 1:9) and turned a staff into a snake (Exodus 4:3), as well as His multiple interactions with Gideon.

If God can handle their questions, He can handle yours.

Are Doubters and Questioners Really That Bad?

An article on the popular evangelical website The Gospel Coalition sparked my thought process and interest in this topic.

Posted on Nov. 13, writer Alisa Childers’ “3 Beliefs Some Progressive Christians and Atheists Share” caught some flack from people on my Twitter timeline, especially for this final paragraph:

“After all, the contemporary views that many people call ‘progressive’ aren’t progressive anyway: they’re very old, echoes of that primordial question, ‘Did God really say’ (Genesis 3:1), signs of the most wicked rebellion imaginable. And we all know where that ends up.”

In the piece, Childers criticized the thoughts and positions of authors like Rachel Held Evans, Peter Enns and Rob Bell who have expressed doubts about the traditional understanding of the Bible. Childers’ reasoning was that doubting and questioning that understanding was one of the first steps to complete atheism. She extended that criticism to those who “may have an unresolved answer to the problem of evil” and “may affirm a culture-adapting morality.”

Along with quoting some of her targets’ work out of context — Evans’ book Inspired, which Childers quoted multiple times and I have read personally, was the most misunderstood — Childers’ article left little room for conversation, understanding and nuance. Instead of trying to really understand where people were coming from and speaking directly to their doubts and questions, she name-dropped those who don’t fall exactly in line with the traditional evangelical thinking and ignored the nuance and stories of their lives.

And here’s the final issue: by comparing these modern “progressive Christians” to the devil himself, she’s also comparing Gideon, Moses and Jeremiah to the serpent. Those men questioned God’s word to them to His face! Gideon was like, “So God, I know that you told me this, but did you really? Prove it to me.” Moses was like, “No, I mean, I know you said this, but I can’t do that. Are you sure you got it right?” Jeremiah, likewise, basically said, “Um, I can’t speak for you, I’m not good enough. You must have picked the wrong dude.”

It’s in these rough assessments like Childers’ piece of questions and those who question that we as the Church lose the skeptics. We don’t make ourselves as accessible as our God is to those who doubt and those who wonder. 

The Holes in the Hands

My new favorite story about doubt and questions is found in John 20:24-29. It’s about “Doubting Thomas,” which is really an unfortunate nickname because we tag the guy with a very small part of his life.

Jesus has recently resurrected Himself and has spent time amongst the disciples, save for the deceased Judas and Thomas. For whatever reason, the latter wasn’t with them the first time. The other disciples told him, “Hey man, we saw Jesus. It was sweet!” He responded, quite rationally, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).

A little more than a week later, Thomas and the disciples were “inside again” — which I assume means that they were dining on some KFC and playing Boggle — and even though the doors were locked, Jesus showed up. The Scripture records that He goes to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27). Instantly, Thomas believes.

Jesus took some time — eight days, in fact — to answer Thomas’ doubts, but He answered them. He came to Thomas directly and said, “Hey man, here’s the answer.” Jesus, God Himself, was willing to acquiesce to the questions of man and the doubts of those who questioned Him. 

We have no right to question Thomas’ questions. Indeed, how often do we doubt something true we hear about Jesus? That He is with us in the storm? That He loves us in our sin? That He really wants what’s best for us? 

Doubt and questioning in and of itself is not sinful. Exploring those doubts and seeking answers to those questions is not sinful in and of itself. As the body of Christ, we must give the Thomases, the Moseses, the Gideons and the Jeremiahs the room to explore their doubts and questions. We must be willing to walk alongside them as they seek answers, not immediately write them off as “not believing the right thing” and certainly not comparing them to Satan. As Paul told the Areopagus in Acts 17, God made men “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him…he is actually not far from each one of us” (v. 26).

God can handle your questions. May we be a church that does the same.

Advertisements

That One Time I Cursed at God for Allowing Me to Sin

I remember one night during my freshman year of college and I was confronted very closely with the sin in my life. It sucked. I was angry and frustrated.

I went to the school’s racquetball courts by myself and began to “practice.” It was really just me pounding the ball as hard as I could against the front wall. In my mind, I was screaming at God. Why? I asked. Why must I deal with this sin in my life? Why can’t I be perfect? Why must I deal with this? Why can’t I just get over this crap? I cursed at God. I did. I was ticked.

I look back on that night as one of the many in college when I was frustrated with God and His ways. College was a rough period for me spiritually. I dealt with a lot of doubt, a lot of fear and a lot of sin. Good gracious. I was a Christian the whole time, but I was overwhelmed spiritually in a lot of ways.

I was flipping through my Bible this morning and found Romans 11:33 underlined. Verse 33, along with 34 and 35:

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’

In my journaling Bible, I have a note beside that set of verses: “How could I question God’s plan for my life or others’ lives? God doesn’t let anything happen to me that wasn’t part of the plan. Nothing surprises Him. I can question God, but I’m not near as smart as Him.”

I think it’s natural for humans to question God, natural for man to ask God why in the world certain things happen the way they do. It’s the cry of the non-believer in the face of a tragedy, the cry of a mother when her child dies prematurely, the cry of a wife when her husband is sent to jail for a long time. Why would God let this happen to me?

I ask God that about my sin. “God, why would you allow me to sin? Why would you allow sin in the world?” If you believe that God is in full control of the world, is all-powerful, I think you can’t escape the idea that God allowed sin to be a part of the world. He didn’t have to create a snake. I think God planned everything out from the beginning of the world, including the fall of man. Again, nothing takes Him by surprise.

I come back to these verses in Romans 11 praising the “judgements” and “ways” and “wisdom” of God. And I ask myself, “How in the world is it wise in God’s eyes to allow sin?” Wrong phrasing. It’s not “in the world” that it’s wise in God’s eyes. God’s ways are so unsearchable and unknowable that we have no business trying to understand it all the way. I think we can grow in that understanding as we mature in our faith, but there’s a sense where we won’t get it all.

So how do I deal with the fact that God allows me to sin? If I believe that all things work together for good, even my sin, I’ve got to accept that even the crappiest thing – my sin – is part of God’s plan for my life. I believe it’s ultimately to bring me back to understanding something.

He is the only way I will ever overcome sin or the grips of sin. I will not defeat sin on earth without God doing an incredible work in my life. It’s a miracle every time we defeat sin because we’re overcoming our natural inclinations. It’s also a miracle that we get to escape the eternal grip of sin on our lives and be held by a God who forgives us of that sin.

I think He allowed sin to be in my life to show me I’m insufficient. Since the fall, He’s allowed my sin to be in my life to kill the need for the self-sufficiency I struggle with on a daily basis and just trust Him, trust His Word and trust His plan.

His plan is perfect. There is nothing wrong with the plan God has put in place for us. Nothing happens outside His approval.

So next time I question God (which will probably be in the next hour or so), I need to come back to this point, the point that says His ways can’t be understood. But I know that they can be trusted fully, trusted without a doubt. That doesn’t mean the doubts won’t come, it just means I have an answer for them when they do.

He knows what He’s doing.