Written By: Pastor Rebecca McDermott @ First Lutheran Church
“Don’t question God, just trust Him.”
I hear that statement a lot. Not a bad statement. Trusting God is at the core of any vibrant faith life. But does trusting mean asking no questions? Does it mean never delving into the deeper mysteries of ourselves, creation, and God?
Admittedly, if we can’t ask questions, I’m in a lot of trouble. I spend my life asking questions. It isn’t that I don’t trust what I read or hear, it’s that I don’t trust necessarily whether or not I’ve heard and understood it properly. As they say – there’s nothing wrong with God’s Word. The problem lies in how we sometimes hear and understand it. So I ask questions. Are there other ways to understand this? Why doesn’t this make sense? Why does this passage seem to contradict what is said in another passage? What other perspectives might someone else bring to the table? Is the way I understand it the way it was intended? Who is God talking to? What are the circumstances? Does this apply to me? Does this apply to my neighbor? Does this apply to my congregation? Does this apply to how I live my life in Kearney, Nebraska at the dawn of the 21st century? And of course – when things in my world tend to fall apart, or they fall apart for friends, or horrible tragedies happen somewhere in the world, I question the point, the reason behind it. Can I trust that somehow, someway, God will utilize the situation to work it for good? Sure. In the midst of that, can I still ask God what this is all about without being seen as one who falters in my faith?
Like I said – I have a lot of questions.
Some people think if we start to question things we’ve been taught, or things we’ve learned, or things we’ve read and heard that we’re somehow being unfaithful to God. That we’re not “trusting” Him enough.
While “blind faith” may seem like it is the most faithful way in which to pursue one’s Christian life, is it how the faithful people of the Bible approached their relationship with the divine?
Perhaps the Bible itself can offer up some answers. Faithful people, page after page, story after story, spend an inordinate amount of time questioning God. Questioning his actions, questioning his justice and mercy, questioning what exactly it is he’s doing.
Abraham questions God’s justice and mercy when he decides to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:22, 25) Abraham again questions God when he’s told Sarah is going to have a child. “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Gen 17:17) Such questions from the man who is considered the “father of us all” faith-wise (Romans 4).
Or take Moses and his string of questions when God calls him to go to Egypt. (see Exodus 3. Moses even goes so far at one point to stop questioning and simply tells God, “send someone else.”) Moses throughout the Torah actually spends a lot of time questioning and debating with God, especially when it comes to how to handle those ungrateful Israelites that are constantly complaining and grumbling against God for having freed them from captivity. At one point, God is ready to simply wipe them off the face of the earth and start the whole thing over with just Moses and his family, and Moses has to go, “Gee, God… that maybe wouldn’t look so good to the neighbors. You free them just so you can kill them? Isn’t that going to be kind of a bad message to send?” (That’s paraphrasing, but read it for yourself. It’s the general gist of the conversation. See Exodus 33 and Numbers 14)
Then there’s Job. “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?” (Job 24:1) Or Jeremiah: “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered?”
Habakkuk was one of the most insistent of the question-askers: “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you “violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong-doing?” (Hab 1:2-3)
God isn’t one to get angry with the questions. He never says, “How dare you question me?” Now, yes, in Job’s case, he responded to Job’s questions with questions of His own, putting Job back in his proper place, but he did not get angry that Job had questioned why these things had happened. (God’s response may seem a bit dissatisfying, basically stating, “I’m God, I created everything, so I can do what I want.” But really, would you want to try and explain to Job that all his suffering was as a result of some bargain you’d made with Satan? Neither would I.) In fact, God gets more annoyed with Job’s friends who try and offer up answers – wrong answers – about why Job is suffering. They try to blame Job – he must have done something wrong. God’s annoyance is that they would try and act like they know what His motives and reasons are. There’s an important message to the friends that I think many of us would be wise to take heed of when we try and definitively state God is doing or not doing something for this particular reason. Sometimes saying “I don’t know” is the more faithful response.
Yet if you really want to know God’s view on questions – let’s look at Jesus himself. Not only did Jesus allow people to ask Him questions – he usually responded by simply asking another question. It’s a rare day when Jesus gives a straight answer to anyone about anything. (In fact, he has to point out in some instances that he’s actually giving a straight answer for a change. “So then he told them plainly: ‘Lazarus is dead.'” – John 11:14, and “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.” – John 16:25)
The amazing thing about Jesus, however, is how he engages conversation. As previously pointed out, he rarely gives a straight answer, but instead turns it around and asks questions like, “What do YOU think it says? How do YOU read it?” (see Luke 10:25-26). Or, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” He wants to know what we think. He wants to know how God’s word is being interpreted.
Jesus invites the conversation. He invites the questions and asks many of his own, “What do you think? How do you interpret this? What are your thoughts? What are other people saying?”
To question is to take part in a relationship with the divine. We may not always get the answers we seek, but faith grows and is renewed in the midst of the questions. Because when we question – we are in relationship. When we question – that means we’re thinking through what God’s Word is trying to tell us.
My own faith perspectives, viewpoints, and understandings change the more I question, the more I seek, and the more I enter into conversations with other faithful people. Is it wrong for viewpoints and understandings to change over time? Absolutely not. It’s how we grow in our relationship with God. Faith and relationships both evolve over time. Nothing is static.
Questioning invites us to get to know God more intimately. Questioning allows us to have a real relationship. Would I consider it a real relationship with a friend if I’m not allowed to ask him/her any questions? No. It’s how we discover things. It’s how we grow in our relationship. It’s how we get to know someone. How do we get to know Jesus? By the questions people ask of Him in the Bible. If no one had ever ventured to question, think of all the lessons that would have been lost. In fact, we could have probably used people asking more questions than they did.
So is it OK to question God? If we use the Bible as our guide in this matter, than the answer seems to be a resounding yes.