Those Pesky Questions

“We spend a lot of time and energy raising questions. Is it worth it? It is always good to ask ourselves why we raise a question. Do we want to get useful information? Do we want to show that someone else is wrong? Do we want to conquer knowledge? Do we want to grow in wisdom? Do we want to find a way to sanctity?” (Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey).

Having been a teacher of some sort most of my working life, I have a love/hate relation- ship with questions.  I have learned the hard way that there is an art to asking questions of your students – questions that are challenging but not overwhelming, interesting but not superficial. Students ask their teachers pesky as well as valid questions. We love it when our 2-year old learns enough language to frame a question, but sometimes we wish they would just stop asking them! As we are learning in the current litigious atmosphere of American politics, skilled prosecutors or defense attorneys only ask questions that they already know the answers to. Asking questions is part of being human.  When we are in the dark, the only way to learn is to ask questions.

But as Henri Nouwen says in the above quote, sometimes we think of and ask too many questions.  A significant sign that we want to be in control rather than living in a posture of surrender is persisting in asking questions that we don’t need the answers to. I often think we ask too many questions of God. Why does God allow this – or that, or that? What is the eternal fate of the person in a hidden civilization who never heard about Jesus? How is the virgin birth possible?

These kind of “explain yourself, God” questions come from doubt and create doubt – in us and in others who are listening. Many an enlightening Bible study or book study goes off the rails because a class member just can’t let a question go, much like a dog ferociously shaking a toy. Why can’t we just be content with not knowing? After all, if we knew everything God knows, we wouldn’t need God; we would be god.

This is my strategy for dealing with God-size questions. It helps us be just as theologically aware and even more content with our life with God. We store all the things we know about God (God loves us, God created us, God forgives us, etc.) in one “container” and open it whenever we need reassurance. We then file all the sometimes impertinent questions that we can’t seem to get answered in another “container.” We open that container only to add a new understanding or new information that can help solve one of the puzzles stored therein – or to add a new question.

Nouwen continues the quote above by suggesting that we ask ourselves why we need to ask so many questions. I think that is an important question in itself – especially when we want to question God.  I am learning to trust God’s love and God’s actions and spend less time worrying about things I don’t need to know. Sometimes it is okay – and good for the soul  -to be left in the dark.

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