At the Intersection of Curiosity and Faith

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 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.

There is no challenge that leaves
God rocking on His holy heels.
(click to tweet)

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 learned 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.
He redirected.

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.

God can handle all our questions, doubts, and fears. He stands ready to answer them, and the answer is always the same: I AM. Look: even my #testimony is #NotAboutMe, from @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

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!

 

wholemama

Why Do You Ask? 3 types of questions put to Jesus

The understanding arising
from the search for an
answer outweighs the
value of the answer itself.

I learned a long time ago that God relishes our questions. When we come to Him with an authentic desire to know more, trust more, glorify more, He welcomes even the toughest of questions and points us down a path of discovery. Sometimes God doesn’t give us a straightforward answer—oftentimes actually—but the depth and breadth of understanding we receive from the search for an answer outweighs the value of the answer itself, had we received it.

When Jesus walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, people asked him lots of questions. I read somewhere that he directly answered only three questions. Usually, he pressed into the question somehow, and often he replied to that question with a question of his own. Remember these?

Whose image is this? And whose inscription?  -Matthew 22:20

What is written in the Law? How do you read it? -Luke 10:26

It wasn’t the status or appearance of the person that affected how Jesus answered. It was the person’s heart. John said, He knew what was in each person (John 2:25). Jesus deliberately led the questioner to the Truth behind the question, which, like our own inquiries today, was actually more important than the specific answer.

As we read through the Gospels, we find at least three types of people who asked Jesus questions. In our examples, let’s limit ourselves to Pharisees, just to make it interesting, and we can find all three types of askers among this group.

Demonstrators declare, “Look what I know.”

I’ve seen this type of person in classrooms and lecture halls. He asks a question to impress the professor and students, not because he wants to learn. In front of Jesus, this type is most clear when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus about the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33). They asked in order to trick Him, to show how clever they were. They weren’t sincerely interested in Jesus’ answer.

Debaters challenge, “Prove it.”

This is the one who says, “I’m not going to take your word for it. Show me the evidence.” Sometimes the Pharisees were indignant about Jesus’ claims and/or actions. How could Jesus be so bold? Then they asked things like this:

The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this? -John 2:18

Or this:

To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. -Mark 8:11-13

Jesus wasn’t interested in giving signs (a.k.a. miracles) to people who weren’t interested in trusting Him. He just walked away. He left them standing there in His dust, looking slightly foolish.

Discoverers plead, “I just don’t know, but I want to believe.”

I almost called this section “Doubters plead.” I am convinced that it’s okay to doubt…when you take your doubts straight to God. Doubting is really about what you discover in the process. So keep reading.

Immediately after the Pharisees challenge Jesus at the temple (John 2:18), John gives us the contrasting story of Nicodemus, an individual Pharisee (John 3). Did you ever wonder why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? According to the notes in my Bible, either he was afraid of being judged by his peers or he just wanted to avoid the interruptions of a day-time crowd. Doesn’t matter, really, because Jesus saw his heart. Jesus saw that he honestly wanted some answers. Nicodemus thought Jesus might actually be the Messiah, but things weren’t happening the way he had always been told they would happen. Nicodemus was sincerely trying to wrap his mind around all this new, tradition-busting information.

Jesus didn’t condemn
Nicodemus for asking
questions.

So this time, Jesus was patient. He answered Nicodemus’ questions in the best way he could, according to Nicodemus’ understanding. The answers aren’t as straightforward as he—or we—might wish (“Born again?” What?), but there’s no sense of impatience on Jesus’ part…maybe frustration because Nicodemus should have understood, but Jesus didn’t rush off, and He didn’t condemn Nicodemus for asking.

This is where we find ourselves, so may years later. Before we go to God with our questions, we must ask ourselves why we are asking. What do you hope to gain from questioning God? To demonstrate, to debate, or to discover Truth? Because it’s not the questions themselves that are the problem.

Suppose three people come to Jesus with exactly the same question, but the motivation behind each is different. Jesus’ reply will be different for each one. How are you asking questions? First, don’t be afraid to ask. Second, know that the answers you get (or lack thereof) probably tell you more about yourself than about your God.

 

Missional Women