We Christians in the United States can be obsessed with finding and providing answers to any and all questions about faith and God and life.
Maybe it’s a reflection of our education system that uses standardized and aptitude testing to gauge how much one has learned. At times, school just taught me how to cram for an exam and regurgitate the right answer for the next text. I can’t really tell you what I learned in seminary, just that I kept my GPA requirements for the scholarship.
I think — I feel — that we lost the art of living with the questions; living with tension of the unknown, uncertain, and unanswerable.
We’re quick to provide an answer even if the answer may be wrong or harmful. Consider a grieving parent asking, “Why would God take my child?” And someone, with good intentions, responds with, “Don’t worry. Your child’s death was all part of God’s plan” or “You know, God couldn’t wait to be with your child in heaven, that’s why God took him through this tragedy.” These are answers that are dismissive of the question.
I grew up in this type of church context where questions weren’t welcome. Because questions can be dangerous. Questions can lead you to doubt. And doubt was the enemy — the antithesis — of faith.
The importance of questioning
Looking back, I wish the Sunday school teachers and the youth pastors of my life were more willing to struggle and wrestle with scripture, doubt and faith along with me. I wish someone would’ve said, “You know, that’s a good question. Let’s walk with it together.” Instead, I felt shamed for the (quite often, legitimate) questions I had.
“You always have these dangerous and unnecessary questions.” Or, “You’re not praying enough, that’s why you have doubt.” Or, “Just read the Bible more.” Or. “Have more faith.”
(Side note: I never understood that. Do I clench my fist and wish with all my might that my faith will just poof get bigger? Is there an incantation to recite? How does one have more faith when they feel they are lacking it? Mind over matter?)
Praying harder or praying more doesn’t help the questions or the doubt go away. The questions only get louder. And so does the sense of shame and the thought of being unfaithful, ungrateful, and just generally a bad Christian.
It wasn’t until fairly late in my twenties when I learned that doubt isn’t the enemy of faith. Nor is it the antithesis of faith. Doubt doesn’t always lead one away from faith.
Did the disciples’ numerous accounts of doubt lead them away from faith? Ultimately, no. Did Thomas’s doubt of Jesus’ resurrection led him away from faith? Did Jesus’ doubt of God’s plan lead him away from his calling?
We need to stop thinking (and teaching) that doubt is the enemy of faith. The true enemy of faith; the true antithesis of faith isn’t doubt. It’s fear.
Fear is the bigger thing that gets in the way of faith and of love. It’s often fear that leads us to be obsessed with having answers to all of life’s difficult questions. And because of the fear of the unknown; the uncertain; the unanswerable I feel that American Christians have lost the art of asking questions. We’re more prone to regurgitate answers than ask questions.
Answering through questions
A rabbi friend once told me that rabbis gauge how much their students know not by the answers they give, but by the questions that they ask. He said that in the early days, a rabbi would ask a question and the student, instead of giving an answer like we are taught to do, would ask a question to that question. And the rabbi would respond with a question.
We see this reflected in Jesus’ ministry. Someone would ask him, “What is the greatest commandment?” And Jesus would respond, “What do you say is the greatest commandment?”
That’s why I always encourage people to ask questions about everything--especially when it comes to faith and the Bible. But also learn to live in the tension of not knowing the answer and being okay with maybe not ever knowing the answer. Living in the mystery is part of faith.
If one had all the answers, why would one need faith? I frequently have questions and still wrestle with doubt about faith and life.
Don’t be fooled. No one is immune to doubt. If Jesus wasn’t immune to doubt, how could we possible be? I’d sure like meet the person who claims their faith is stronger than Jesus’.
Remember. Doubt is not the opposite of faith.
I do believe I have come to a point where I no longer doubt God’s existence and presence nor do I doubt my calling (how that calling is expressed in my life, I still wrestle with on a too frequent of a basis). But I question and I doubt in love; in knowing that I am loved.
That my questions won’t scare away God nor scare my loved ones away. That my doubting won’t lead people to shame me for the perception of a ‘lack of faith.’ The trust I have in knowing that I am loved helps me to not be afraid, which helps me to feel grounded and safe to wrestle with the questions.
So ask questions. Wrestle with doubt. Know that God is with you. Know that you are loved.
And be okay with admitting that you don't have all the answers.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.