Friday, March 12, 2010

Asking Questions

Lately, I've been getting into some discussions regarding questions about the Christian faith. What I've seen is that a large number of these questions stem from one thing: doubts or a lack of faith. I'll admit, my first reaction to some of these conversations has been frustration, but after meditating on some of the underlying motives, my heart began to soften a little. I began to see that maybe my frustrations were only a natural defense mechanism for my own questions of faith. I know what your thinking, and before you make a decision about my underlying motives for this blog, please indulge me for a cyberspace minute or two. I think you'll see where I'm going with this and maybe even come along for the ride. If not, no worries because I'm paying for the gas, and it's my vehicle.

From time to time, we all have questions about our faith. As we stumble and bump around this life, like a clumsy toddler learning to use his legs, we inevitably bump into things that just don't make sense. We wonder. We question. We wrestle with our thoughts. We get frustrated and many times, we give up. There is so much about God that falls into the unknown, so how can anyone with all honesty say that they have it all figured out? If they do, they either suffer from a slightly swollen ego, or they've been conditioned to believe that questioning God is just a step away from being a heretic. Our Church culture has built a structure that discourages questioning and subtly belittles those who do. And doubts or even unbelief? Forget it! Full out rejection!

But is it OK to question our faith? Is it a natural part of our spiritual walk? Are doubts and fears about our faith acceptable, or are they manifestations of unbelief. Is it possible to believe, but still struggle with unbelief? St. Augustine revealed the nature of questioning faith in Confessions. For him, the mere act of questioning was actually a portal into a deeper faith and a closer relationship with God. In his experience, he saw questioning as an energy that moved him toward God. Learning to ask questions, and how to ask questions is reflected in much of his work. But one thing remains clear, Augustine saw questioning of God and faith in general, as a natural and healthy form of spiritual discipline.

In Mark 9:13-30, Jesus heals a boy that is possessed by a demon. When his father asks Jesus to help them he says, "But if you can, take pity on us and help us." Jesus responds, "If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes." The boy's father responds, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Jesus then cast the demon out of the boy. There were no preconditions on the man's faith, and there was no chastisement for his lack of belief. The man proclaims that he understands some of what's going on with Jesus, but some of it is also difficult. Perhaps this man had seen and heard of the miracles Jesus had preformed. Maybe he had heard murmurings that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, but His rejection by the religious leaders caused him to doubt these claims. Maybe he was afraid. Afraid of letting go of tradition and what he had been taught his entire life.

For me, questioning is liberating. It is a doorway that reveals to me that I serve a God that is big enough to handle the tough questions that I have about Him. But the interesting thing about questioning, is that it actually moves me toward a deeper faith and knowledge that I lacked to begin with. I think that if we remain in unbelief and stubbornly ignore our doubts, we end up with a shallow faith that is actually more dangerous than questioning.

Don't get me wrong. I do believe, I just need help with my unbelief.


Anonymous said...

hey jake - yes , 'honest' questioning , i believe, jesus had time for.. however, i think that there are two kinds of questioning. the second type of questioning, jesus walked away from. so did god in job.

to me, it is a matter of the heart and the heart from which questions stem. the pharisees frequently asked questions of jesus to see if they could 'trip him up'. likewise, i have asked questions of god that stem from a demandingness, or from a desire to control it all by being able to reduce things in managable ways for myself. likwise , honestly coming to god asking him to help me to trust, to be willing, to surrender, to live the questions, may be rewarded with a deeper sense that all will be well and a greater ability to trust.

i believe that god does not step up to help us 'reduce' him to managable bits. the quetions i too have recently come across may seem profound at first glance, but i believe can be foundationally girded by a desire to reduce questions to managable bits that one can control/use for one's own purposes - IRONICALLY, the very thing these same people may accue the 'i.c.' of doing in fundamentalism.

jesus always sees us at our hearts. may he allow me the space to question as i turn to him trusting as i can - even if it is a widow's mite.

Jake Kampe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl Ensom said...

Great post, Jake! I love the example you gave about Augustine.

I find the whole "questioning/doubt" thing similar to what goes on in a human relationship, to some's what I mean.

If I walk around with some doubt as to whether my significant other loves me, is being honest with me, accepts me as I am or any other concern, and I keep that inside, don't talk about it, etc., what happens is those doubts/questions take on a life of their own. They grow. They gather steam. They slowly but surely morph into lack of trust.

How silly when I could have just ASKED my significant other what they feel about me! In fact, if I had those doubts/questions and I DIDN'T share them with him, I know for a fact that he would feel hurt.

I know from my own painful experience that doubts/questions/fears/uncertainties can effectively become MORE destructive than if you voiced them and didn't get the answer you hoped for.

Also I know that being afraid to face whatever it is that is bumping around inside of me makes me despise myself a little more every day. The fear of what's behind the curtain I'm afraid to pull back makes what's ACTUALLY there bigger, scarier and more paralyizing every day that I walk by it, trying to ignore it or tell myself I don't need to face whatever it IS.

One last thought in response to "Anonymous":
Do you think anyone but the person themselves can decide/know if the questioning is the "wrong" kind? My experience in evangelical Christianity is that if someone asks a question/expresses a doubt that someone else doesn't have or feel comfortable with or understand, there is an immediate "shaming" that's applied to the question-er and a labeling of that line of questioning as "wrong." This sends many confused, hurt or angry Christians packing. Often Christians, as they shame the question-er, "speak for" God or claim to. This is particularly awful when it's done by adults to children ( painful).