The Dangers of Questioning Our Faith And Why We Must
What If Everything Was Up For Discussion?
A group of people sat around a large table, sipping drinks and taking turns to share what they would value in a new start-up church. One guy shared how he was still looking into all this faith ‘stuff’ and my teenage daughter joined him in commenting that, ‘It’s really important to me to have a group where we can discuss things.’ Others agreed.
Until a leader pointed out that discussions are great, ‘but some things are just not up for discussion.’
To be fair, I don’t think that the leader intended to shut them down. But speaking out your questions is not easy, especially for a shy teen and someone who is new to the group. Everyone else seems to know everything. Everyone wants to be accepted in the group.
However, new members and children seem to get a grace card when it comes to confessing ignorance or inquiry. I have observed an attitude towards them that seems to humour them because ‘they don’t know any better.’
But what about for Christians that have lived this life for a while?
What about our leaders?
Do we get a grace card and space to deeply explore our questions?
Why Questions Are Dangerous
It can feel dangerous to share our questions. We can feel exposed and vulnerable; they must be whispered to trusted friends or wiser leaders. These are not factual questions — like who wrote the book of Acts — but rather the questions of the heart and soul; what it means to be human, to love, to hurt, to believe, to try and understand ourselves and God.
There is often a fear of being judged around asking such questions.
- What if we are seen as a ‘backslider’? Or a sower of doubt?
- We may cause offence (the biggest sin going in a politically correct world) and incite anger in others.
- We may be seen as ignorant or just plain wrong.
- If we are judged, the judgement may turn against us and we may be rejected and cast out.
The fear of ‘shipwrecking our faith’ and taking others down with us keeps people in the shallows and away from the deeper waters. But there was a reason navigation was used as allegory for faith in the ancient church.
I’ve asked some questions, some big ‘uns: I’ve questioned my faith, myself and my God. I’ve had the privilege to sit around with others — some of whom are held in great esteem in the Christian world — and listen to them humbly examine their doubts and questions about what it means to live this life. And here’s the thing: God didn’t abandon or smite us.
Almighty God, the timeless creator of the universe around us, seems to be penty big enough to handle our little questions. Like a dad with his little ones. Sometimes, it’s other Christians who aren’t big enough to handle them. If they acknowledge our questions, then maybe they will have to acknowledge their own.
Questions rock the normal accepted. They cause a tremor to pass through what someone sees as fixed and sure. Messy things, questions. Uncomfortable. They niggle and press, speaking at inconvenient moments into our consciousness. They can cause change.
It’s no wonder that institutions don’t like them.
Curious by design
Questions are hardwired into our make up. Our curiosity has been vital for the survival and progress of our species. We have an intellectual need to know and understand and this only comes through curiosity and questions. Therefore, questions are the start of learning.
From our hunger we search for answers, learn, and are satisfied. Our free will and our curiosity are gifts from God. He put them there on purpose.
More than our hunger for intellectual knowledge and answers, we also have a deep need for connection, understanding, and intimacy. It’s there by design. Beautiful design.
Curiosity and questions are the start of knowledge, understanding, and intimacy. We need them. They are vital for growth.
What do we have without questions?
“Some things are just not up for discussion”
Everything should be up for discussion.
To discuss means to examine and to talk about together; it is synonymous with dialogue, discourse, and study. Final decisions are not obligatory.
In fact, some of our questions will not have an answer that can be ticked off our list so easily. Not being able to give a pre-packaged answer is what can make some feel so uncomfortable around questions of faith.
Sometimes we have to live our questions a little in order to find our peace.
What can feel particularly precarious is discussing the things we hold as sacred truth. They are the foundations of faith that unite Christians throughout the world and down through the ages. A beautiful example of this is the Nicene Creed. It connects us all in what we believe at the centre of our faith.
Yet, I would say that even those things we profess as sacred truth should be up for discussion. We can talk about them, study them, and question them so as to grow in our understanding of who God is, who we are, and what it means to live out what we believe.
What it means to be human, what is means to be divine, and what it means to live betwixt the two, does not easily fit in a box. Tradition can be very good at creating boxes for us to operate in; the problem comes when tradition is held as sacred truth. People can get quickly offended around this issue (try suggesting rearranging the seating).
Some friends of mine were openly shocked that I was not observing Lent one year. They seemed confused when I said that I didn’t see Lent as a command in the bible. It didn’t mean that I didn’t understand its value, origins, or significance, I just chose not to observe Lent that year.
There is great unity and strength in tradition. It can build us and support us in our faith. It has great value. But please don’t be offended if my tradition is not yours or if I question my own traditions and teachings.
My concern is that without questions and discussion, all we are left with is indoctrination: this is what I say is right and what I say you must believe to belong.
Rather than leading to growth, that leads to control.
Jesus’s own disciples asked him questions. No, not in the middle of a talk to the masses, but quietly aside when they had time and space for an explanation.
God has put within us, as part of His grand design, a hunger for understanding and intimacy. Questions are the starting point of both.
Questions are vital to our growth. They are part of who we are, and the means by which we become who we can be.
That is why we must hold space for and ask our questions.