That’s A Good Question
By JIM NICHOLS
Everyone acknowledges that children are full of questions. In many ways, they are starting life knowing little of anything and they learn by asking questions as well as observation and, perhaps, imitation. They ask questions seeking answers; as adults, we also seek answers, but adult questions include some deeper possibilities.
For those of us trying to follow God and grow spiritually, our questions position us sometimes in tensions that can be profound. Does our openness to other ideas play a role in furthering our spiritual maturity or is it an enticement to infidelity? Specifically, our faith has been built on a set of premises that our tribe (whatever it is) has generally accepted. My hunch is that each of us has questioned either internally or externally the validity of some of those premises. That has led either to our own internal distress or to distress of others because we have voiced those questions. Long ago when I was a much younger adult, the word got back to me that some in the congregation considered me a “boat rocker”; I was not sure whether I was embarrassed or pleased.
There is a long history of believers asking faithful questions and it started at the beginning of humanity and was perfected by Jesus. One of the powerful ways to read scripture is to look for the questions. Some of the questions are, literally, matters of life and death.
“But who do you say that I am?”
“Which of the three was the neighbor to the robber’s victim?”
“Who can separate us from the love of God?”
Sometimes the questions appear to be about simple, daily concerns, but elicit a deeper response. “Why are you anxious about clothes?”
Other questions rotate the spotlight from shining on others to shining on ourselves. “If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what is unusual about that? Do not unbelievers do the same?”
Another author has noted that we ask questions for answers whereas Jesus asks questions for awareness and transformation.
I had a wonderful teacher who was a master at conducting a discussion class but guiding it so that we students ended up asking (as best as I could conclude) exactly the questions he wanted us to ask. That is, we students spoke the words and made the points he himself wanted to make.
One of Jesus’ questioners asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was the same question asked of the apostles at Pentecost.
Unfortunately, some of the questions we ask in our lives have a poorly hidden agenda of drawing boundaries between those of us supposedly on the inside and those on the outside. This may be simply those in another denomination or those on a significantly different spiritual path than our own. This is where we might encounter this significant tension; when I ask questions, are they legitimate ways to probe God for His ways or do they undermine my faith and introduce doubt?
It is not unknown for actual hostility to be generated within a group of God’s followers by some questioning the group’s long-standing position on some topic. Think about your group and note the positions that seem to be unquestionable.
An important point about questioning, it seems to me, is how to do so in a loving manner. Much more binds us together than separates us. However, that does not mean the questions will be easy to swallow. Do they lead to growth as people of God or are they chinks in spiritual armor that will lead to overall weakness?
Within recent days, Pope Francis reiterated some thoughts about legal acknowledgment for LGBTQ individuals and, in the process, suggested some rethinking about what constitutes a “family.” If this topic has not yet come to your congregation, it is not far away. What is our tribe’s definition of a “family?” On what basis do we make that proclamation? That’s a good question.
A long-time preacher/friend of mine reports that he had a sermon he used annually titled, “Are you an American who happens to be a Christian, or a Christian who happens to be an American?” That’s a good question.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain