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.

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I’m Not OK with God’s Wrath Sometimes

I’ve been reading through Jeremiah, sort of, trying to, the last month or so. I’m only on chapter 8 now, so it’s been slow going. I haven’t been terribly consistent or disciplined with my quiet time.

Anyways, I was reading chapter 7 today and was struck by all the violence that God declares on the Israelite people. I have a journaling Bible, which is a really cool Bible that has big lined margins on the side where you can take notes or record thoughts. Jeremiah 7 is a particularly condemning chapter. Verses 16-20 read thus:

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? declares the LORD. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”

Don’t know how you, the reader, feels about this passage, but I struggle with it. In the margins by a different verse, I wrote, “Sometimes I wonder why God was so harsh, so rash. Why was He so unforgiving then but is forgiving now?”

ask-question-2-fb180173e13f21ad6ae73ba29b08cd02I feel like sometimes in the church culture, we have to have an explanation for everything, otherwise people will question God. Otherwise people will not believe in God. God’s wrath is one of those things that often gets people. How can a loving God do this?

To be honest with you, I don’t know if I have an answer for that that I am totally behind. I know God is judge as well as lover, and that He executes perfect justice on the earth. But why did He wait until later to show grace, particularly to me? I am just as equally a sinner as these people were, yet because I was born after Jesus, I have the opportunity to experience the goodness of the grace of God.

Not that the people God speaks of in Jeremiah didn’t have an opportunity to believe in Him. They had plenty of opportunities. Jeremiah 7:25 speaks of God’s “servants the prophets” who were sent to speak to the people.

But don’t you ever feel like God maybe was a little too harsh on the people of Israel?

Now, some people might hear me ask that question and think I’m not a believer, think I don’t think God is good, think I doubt that God is who He says He is, think I don’t believe the Bible is perfect, or whatever. But I’m tired of just going along with what everybody says just because everybody says it. So often in the Christian culture we just hear what a pastor we like or our favorite author says and then we go along with it because they said it.

Is our faith ever really our own?

Maybe I’m wrong for questioning this. I don’t know. But I can’t help but wonder if we might be strengthened and encouraged as a body of Christ if we’re more honest about the real questions we have about what we believe, what the Bible says, how we’re supposed to live our lives.

So if you have questions, ask them. Don’t just believe something because somebody said it. Don’t believe me just because I’m saying what I’m saying right now. Question me! I think Christians are scared of asking questions because we’re “supposed” to have all the answers. Only non-Christians question God, right? We’re supposed to know everything, right?

No. I don’t think so. And we Christians get scared when people find out we don’t know everything. “They won’t believe in Jesus if we don’t give them all the answers!” It’s not up to us. It’s up to God who believes. God draws them, saves them, not us.

It’s too bad, because our God knows all the answers. We may never get all of them this side of heaven, but He’s given us His Son as an answer or part of the answer to a great many of them. Namely the important ones: How do I find purpose? How do I deal with all the crap I’ve done wrong? What happens when you die? How do we know God?

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Feel free to comment, share this with your friends, talk about this. I’d love for this to be a place of dialogue where the 10 people (maybe) that read this talk about things that matter, such as the questions that Christians have about God and the Bible. We may not know the answers, but dialogue can be an incredibly helpful thing.