Questions allowed!

“It’s God’s will. You mustn’t question God’s will.” 

If I’ve heard this admonition once, I’ve heard it a gazillion times – usually when I’ve challenged some aspect of religious dogma or someone’s interpretation of a Biblical passage. And I must admit, I tend to become innately suspicious when any person (or church denomination) does not want me to ask questions. 

The Bible itself brims with stories of prophets and apostles who questioned God’s will – or tried to change God’s mind, or expressed doubts out loud – and lived to tell about it. 

When God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and prophesy against that city, Jonah tried to flee rather than carry out the command and got angry when the people of Nineveh actually repented of their sins. When Job fell on excruciatingly hard times, he didn’t lose his faith, but he did confront God, demanding to know why these things were happening to him.

Wikipedia defines a doubting Thomas as “a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience” – a reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the other apostles until he could see and feel Jesus’s wounds for himself. Even Jesus, as he faced crucifixion, pleaded with God, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.”

But when people “caution” me not to question God’s will, I’m not sure it’s God’s will they’re worried about. I suspect what some of them really mean is, “Don’t question my interpretation of God’s will.” I haven’t yet decided whether it’s worth the effort to question God’s will, but I can certainly challenge another human being’s interpretation of it.

My own questioning of “received wisdom” began early. At age 8, I listened in shock as a mainline Protestant minister “explained” to the congregation that “God does not intend for black people to be equal to white people.” As a teenager, I simply refused to believe someone who claimed my baby sister would not go to heaven because my parents were unable to have her baptized before she died. 

When I was in college, some evangelical classmates talked excitedly about The Late, Great Planet Earth, a book by Hal Lindsay which speculated the Catholic Church was the Great Whore of Babylon mentioned in the Book of Revelation and the Pope was the Antichrist who had the number 666 engraved on his ring. I may not have agreed with every single aspect of Catholic teaching, but I was repulsed by the blatant bigotry and said so.

More recently I’ve debated folks who think God favors capitalism over socialism or America over other countries, the so-called “prosperity gospel” promoting the idea that God wants us to be wealthy, the assertion that God cares whether we sing traditional hymns or contemporary music at our church services, and the whole concept of predestination. 

One reason we have so many Christian denominations is that we have so many different interpretations of “the truth.” The various sects and denominations offer contrasting teachings on everything from baptism (sprinkling or immersion? infant or older?) to communion (wine or grape juice? open or closed?) to how one gets “saved” (baptism or personal decision?). And then there’s the debate over whether a church should take positions on hot-button “political” issues such as immigration and gun control. When Christians can’t agree on the “right” answers, how do I sort these things out for myself if I can’t ask questions?

I’ve discovered it’s not only important to question other people’s ideas, but my own as well. I must admit I occasionally notice cognitive dissonance between my stated values and my actions. For example, I say I care about the environment (God’s creation!), yet keep contributing excessive waste to our ever-expanding landfills. I say we all ought to invest in solar power, but have yet to install the panels on our own house. Along with Pope Francis, I decry consumerism, yet can’t seem to stop accumulating STUFF. I share the Bible’s concern about the poor, yet avoid looking too closely at the impact of my spending and investment habits on economically disadvantaged people. I could go on.

Whether we’re talking about church dogma or political/ideological positions, one thing I’ve been asking myself lately is, do I really believe everything I claim to believe? Or do I pay lip service to certain ideas to please my peer group? Do I secretly think someone else should be responsible for upholding certain values while I’m exempt? Could a fearless moral inventory of the type promoted by 12-Step programs be in order? (For those unfamiliar with 12-Step groups, the fearless moral inventory involves seriously examining one’s own attitudes and behavior.)

I’m aware that the mere act of asking questions carries risks. Will I stop believing in God altogether if I express too many doubts? Will I decide the church I’m attending is no longer appropriate for me? Will I stop agreeing with friends on certain issues, and will they no longer consider me an ally or want to be friends with me?

Yes, it is possible I could end up wanting to go to a different church. (Again.) Or I could stop believing in God altogether. Or I could lose friends. But it’s equally possible that answering questions to my own satisfaction could strengthen my faith, encourage me to appreciate my current church even more, and allow me to discern who my real friends are.

Matthew 22:37 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Your mind, it says. Your mind.

I’ve been encouraged by reader responses to recent blog posts in which I’ve acknowledged struggling with various aspects of my faith. 

Chrissie, author of the blog Word Quilt (link HERE), had this response to one of my posts: “To doubt and still believe [is] a real definition of faith, but not blind faith.” Exactly, I thought.

Elizabeth, author of the blog Saved by Words (link HERE), responded to another of my posts: “If you didn’t question the very basis of your faith, you would be merely borrowing someone else’s faith.” I like that. And I completely agree.

Ultimately, what I want is my own personal faith – one that will stand up to reason and scrutiny. What that means is, I will probably be questioning God, myself and others until I draw my last breath. And for now, I’ve decided that’s okay.

23 thoughts on “Questions allowed!

  1. This sounds so much like what I went through. I was brought up in a church with very narrow views (sermons about the whore of Babylon were part of the package. When I went to university, I decided not to take anything for granted as otherwise it would just be an inherited faith and not my own. I met evangelical Christians who I thought had more open views, but when I expressed doubts, there didn’t seem to be a place for them. What happened next was that I threw the baby out with the bathwater and became agnostic (I was very young – have written about some of this here and in next few posts ). I avoided churches like the plague for 20 years until I eventually become Catholic. One big factor in my becoming Catholic was not being forced, and the other was being reassured that there was no question which couldn’t be asked. I like Chrissie’s definition of faith and doubt and would totally agree. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even Mary did, when the angel told her she was going to have a baby.

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  2. I am deeply convinced that God is not only okay with, but eagerly welcomes your questions. I have come to observe that being able to ask Him questions openly is a wonderful reflection of trust actually. It means that you trust Him to handle them, to not be threatened by them, to not be turned off by them, but to lovingly, generously answer them. Seek and you will find! Much love to you 🙂

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  3. I love your about page too..wish there was a like and comment area on there but since there’s not I came long have you been involved with church or considered yourself a believer if I may ask?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This year I read through Genesis again, and I keep going back and rereading parts of Jacob’s story. Now there was a man who wrestled with God, not only physically that one time, but in mental anguish till he was more than 100 years old.
    Gen. 47:9; and 35:20, 21 – “Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that the text says that Jacob buried his wife and then that Israel (he who wrestles with God) journeyed on. I believe that this is significant, in that, in his grief, Jacob/Israel is still wrestling with God. And this is not the only place that this occurs.
    One proof of the pudding is in Genesis 46:2-4 where the Lord appears to “Israel” in visions of the night and comforts and reassures him. Through all that wrestling, God still loved him with His covenant-keeping love.

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  5. Long ago I decided that God had created my mind and if belief could crumble from intellectual inquiry it wasn’t worth any thing. I do find that sometimes my mind questions what my heart knows to be true. For instance I intellectually question life after death yet I have had very definite experiences of the presence of my late sister. I wasn’t doing a seance or anything. She came to me on her own, as it were. My faith bumps along like that incorporating experience as it goes.

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  6. As I said before, I’ve been where you are. I’ve asked so many questions and finally have my answers. I have very deep faith in what we call God. I do not have faith in a religion. Everyone sees everything through their own filter so their truth fits them. My reading has gone way outside of most circles. The thing is that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I would never presume to suggest you read what I’ve read. When you are ready, the information will show up in front of you. I can get overly exuberant about what I’ve discovered and want to share but it’s just not right for me to do so. Until you ask. I do think you are on the path that will free you from anguish. Keep searching.

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  7. How will we learn if we don’t ask questions?
    When I’m talking to someone, their asking questions lets me know they are interested in what I’m saying and want to know more. (In other words, it reassures me I’m not boring them to death!)
    Jesus sais we should be like little children. Have you talked with a child lately? They ask questions ALL.THE.TIME. 😉

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