Out of Sorts: On the Importance of Questions

I LOVED this chapter. Not only did it really hit home in a lot of ways, but Sarah is a genius. She weaved one of my favorite academic writers (James Folwer) into her writing effortlessly, accessibly, and without being pompous.

An enviable writing style I have yet to master.

Picture1What stuck out to me in this chapter were the role of questions in our faith. Sarah (writers note: the academic in me wants to say “Bessey” but her book makes me feel like I am taking a friend out to coffee so I am sticking with Sarah. You get that tidbit for free.) starts the chapter out by revealing some of her own questions.

In similar fashion, I decided to do the same. I found this to be a really fun and enlightening process, and encourage you to go through a similar process. You will be amazed at the growth you have experienced as well as the big questions that will never leave you alone.

Some of these I don’t ask anymore. Either because I think I found an answer or I found a better question. Others I am still asking. Some haunt me. Some made me giggle as I wrote them. But whatever the nature of the questions, I realized how important questions have been in my faith.

So here are a sampling of my questions over the years:

What rules are essential to follow to go to heaven? What tribe must you belong to? Do people who believe the wrong things or don’t do the right rituals go to heaven? Does God actually want people in heaven? Do I believe in heaven?
What actually happens when you die? Is there a hell? What kind of a God makes a hell? Do I want a part of that God? Do I want a part of a God who doesn’t care about our choices and the horrific violence in the world?
What is sin? Is it just an arbitrary score card for what God thinks is good and bad?
Is the Bible literal? Are there others ways of looking at the Bible? What does inerrant mean? Do I care?
Does God not like women? Do church people not like women?
Is God violent and angry? Did he kill Jesus? Is God a H/he?
What in the world is this “church” thing? Is it all about what we do on Sunday morning? If it is community, then why do we do Sunday morning? Is there a church out there that I would actually like? Why do the things we talk about in church feel so disconnected from actual life? Why did they let that guy teach Bible class again? That guy?
What does prayer do? Anything? Is it for me or for God? Is the only reason I do good things to get God to listen to me? Why bother with praying if there’s no way of knowing if it makes a difference?
Why isn’t God listening? Is God even there? Or is this all something we have created as human beings to deal with the fact that we will one day die and are powerless to control much if anything here on earth?
What does God want me to do? If I don’t figure it out and make the wrong choice, is my life doomed to the wrong direction? Did he put His Will for my life in tea leaves and I missed it because I am a coffee drinker?
And perhaps the question that so frequently plagues me as I constantly wrestle with faith and theology: Do I actually buy any of this?

In this chapter, Sarah talks about how we are priesthood of all believers. Our job as a people is to minister to each other. And as I read her list of questions, I think sometimes the questions we have can be a huge source of comfort and grace to each other.

When I have the courage to ask my questions out loud, I am ministering to those who have the same questions, but have been afraid to ask them out loud. When I ask my questions, I am able to be ministered to by those who have asked the same questions and come out the other side. When I ask my questions I present a version of Christianity that takes doubt seriously, and admits that we don’t have it all figured out.

William Isaacs calls this “voicing” – when I speak my own genuine, true, authentic self (and questions) I am not only speaking for myself, I am speaking for the collective. My questions are often your questions. And when I have the courage to ask them, we have the chance to work through them together.

question-are-the-answer-2I say courage because in many theological/church settings, asking questions is not allowed. Too often the systems we have created for faith are scared of questions. Sarah calls this the fear of “what if?” What if I change? What if “we find our way to the fabled slippery slope”? What if I have to give up part of who I am? What if my questions lead me to reject a whole system built on a particular way of viewing the world?

But we need to be wary of those who do not allow questions.

Partly because when we make room in our lives (and systems) for questions, we are making room for God. God is found in the questions. The Spirit works in the spaces where we don’t have neat, tidy answers and categories for things. God shows up at night.

This is actually the nature of faith. If I know for sure and am convinced, it is not faith. Faith is about trust. And trust assumes some “not knowing.” Questions are an inevitable part of faith.

In the end, Sarah brought it all together by reminding us of Psalm 139:7-12:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Even when we doubt and wonder and question, we can never escape God.

In my life, behind all of those questions above, is the desire to know God and the search for what is true and real.

Questions are scary. And sometimes the answers or the pursuit of questions can wreck you. But they are how we grow. And when we dare to ask them out loud, they unify and bind us together. And it is in the questions, we find God.

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