I suppose I was a late-bloomer. I didn’t become curious about God until I was nineteen. Before that, I just swallowed whatever my parents and church told me. Sure, I read the Bible (over and over). Sure, I prayed. And went to church camp. And did “mission projects” in our city. But I never asked about it. I just did it because I was supposed to, and it never crossed my mind not to believe. (Give me a little credit here: It was the Bible Belt in the 1980s. Things were different.) When I went to college, I started rubbing shoulders with people who had the guts to say they didn’t think the same way and didn’t believe the same things.
Fancying myself far more open-minded than I actually was, I sat down with my pastor to ask him the questions that were punching holes in my untested faith. He told me my questions were from Satan and I shouldn’t entertain them any longer. Yes, he did.
As I walked away from that conversation through the adjacent gravel parking lot, I wanted to vomit. I knew he wasn’t right, but I didn’t know why or how. I faced a choice. If the pastor’s words were true, if my questions were satanic in origin, then God was weak. He could be attacked and needed to be defended. I didn’t see any point in following that god (intentionally lowercase ‘g’). If the pastor’s words were false, then the church (at least that one) was afraid of the culture, afraid of being challenged and thus it was ineffective. Why would I want to be involved with that?
“If our faith can’t stand up to a
simple comparison with other
religions, what good is it?”
Around the same time, I took a Comparison of World Religions class at my very large, very secular public university. Some Christian friends discouraged me, saying it would destroy my faith. I remember asking them, “If our faith can’t stand up to a simple comparison with other religions, what good is it?” There were two Christ-followers in the class: me and a young man I vaguely recognized. We sat together. It helped, but those months were still full of jolting eye-openers as I heard how the rest of the world perceived our faith. We didn’t stand up and try to defend ourselves through shouting matches. We listened and exchanged ideas with others in the class. Ultimately, that class didn’t destroy my faith; on the contrary, it strengthened it.
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” –Albert Einstein
I can’t remember every train of thought I explored in the days following that conversation with the pastor or every puzzle I sorted through from the religions class, but over time, the many years of Bible reading paid off. I remembered Moses, who talked back to God and told Him He couldn’t kill all the Israelites (Exodus 32). I remembered Abraham, who asked, “How long do I have to wait for an heir?” (Genesis 15). I remembered Gideon, with his, “Okay, just one more test, Lord” (Judges 6). I remembered Thomas, who needed to see the holes in Jesus’ hands (John 20). All of these people doubted. All of them had questions. All of them pushed back. Every time, God took it and He answered. Not once in the Bible does God reject a follower for asking questions.
So I laid all those questions out before God, side by side, and I said, “Show me!” There was no epiphany, no dramatic vision, no angelic visitation that left me trembling in my boots. And quite honestly, no straight-forward answers. Over time, however, God became bigger to me than the Bible verses from Sunday School. I pushed and pulled and prodded on every side. I saw that there is no question too big to ask Him, no challenge that leaves Him rocking on His holy heels. In fact, I think He delights in the questions. Even when I run at Him in anger, screaming and crying and beating my fists against His figurative chest, He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t get offended. He doesn’t walk away. He also doesn’t always answer the question I give Him, but He does always answer–often by showing me something of Himself.
That’s what God did with Job. Job complained and debated—all without sacrificing faith. Job said (and I’m summarizing Job 29-31), “Why are you doing this to me, Lord? What did I do to deserve it?”
God didn’t respond.
In answer, God didn’t answer. God didn’t respond; He redirected. He said essentially, “Look at who I am.” He showed Job something of Himself (Job 38-41). Rather than frustration, Job learned to be satisfied with God. No, not satisfied…delighted. Job delighted in Who God was and God blessed him. End of story.
We’ll never have all the answers. But, as Marcelo Gleiser said, “This realization should open doors, not close them, since it makes the search for knowledge an open-ended pursuit, an endless romance with the unknown.” I think God delights in our questions because ours is a revelatory God. That means He reveals Himself to His creation…just not all of Himself. Like a couple on the precipice of marriage: gradually getting to know more of each other, culminating in full revelation on their wedding night.
Speaking of romance, I’ve been married for nineteen years. Just a few months ago, I learned my husband and I have the same favorite LifeSaver flavor. (How could I not know that, I ask myself!) It was a diminutive but delightful discovery, the kind that comes every now and then in marriage. I’ve been curious about God for even longer than I’ve been married. I’ve asked questions; I’ve waded into the tough stuff; I’ve rejected many traditional trappings in favor of authentic faith. That’s a lot of curiosity. But here’s the best part: I’m not done. I’ll never be done. I don’t want to be done.
Fascinated by curiosity in general? Check out this interesting scientific approach to the topic.
How have you questioned God? Did the experience strengthen or weaken your faith? Let us hear about it in the comments below!