I came across a link on a website recently (one of those sidebar icons) advertising that the blogger was a “Friend of Questions.” It made me think about how question-friendly am I . . . really. I know I say I like questions, but I tend to only like the ones that I am comfortable answering, or ones that favour my own viewpoint.
I’ve become better at this recently, but it seems the more questions I open myself up to, the more arise. Is this good for my faith? Does the fact that I have all these doubts in my head make me less of a “believer?” How does God see my questioning? Where is God in these doubts and these times of questioning?
I’m reading a very timely book (for me) by Jason Boyett called O Me of Little Faith. Its premise is that it’s OK for Christians to doubt. It isn’t a sign of spiritual weakness, and it shouldn’t be something we try to hide or to cover up when we’re around other Christians (or non-Christians for that matter).
He begins the book by asking a whole bunch of questions (with varying degrees of seriousness) about the Church and Christians. Here’s a little of what he writes:
In a church culture where we clean ourselves up on Sunday mornings and go to church decked out in smiles and wrinkle-free clothes, it’s good to remember that life is messy. Some of us smell bad, and we’re wearing the same jeans we spilled coffee on yesterday. Our prayers are not particularly powerful and effective (James 5:16). Our lives don’t seem victorious. Our struggles are hard, and sometimes we’re barely holding it together. Is this faith thing even worth it?
Those of us on the doubter’s road are constantly good at one thing: asking questions. Whether we ever find the answers or not, the questions are always there—and not just questions about whether or not God exists. Have you ever asked any of these questions?
• What if religion and our longing for God is just the way our brains are wired? Could spirituality just be the product of chemistry or electrical impulses?
• What if the atheists are right, and faith is just a crutch we’ve developed to give life meaning and mitigate the spectre of death?
• Are the New Testament stories about Jesus trustworthy? How do we know it’s not some big Da Vinci Code hoax or cover-up by a power-hungry church?
• If the Bible is supposed to be completely inspired by God, why does it seem to have mistakes and factual contradictions in it? And why do the typical Christian explanations of these contradictions always seem so lame?
• Stories like God instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, or the destruction of the Canaanites, or the whole book of Job, seem so brutal and heartless. Am I really supposed to love and serve a deity who, frankly, comes across that unattractive?
• Do I have to believe in demons and angels and all that weird spiritual warfare stuff in order to be a Christian?
• Do I have to completely disregard scientific ideas like the theory of evolution or the incredible age of the universe in order to maintain my belief in the authority of the Bible?
• Why do Christians get so weird about the tend limes”? Why do some Christians get so weird, period?
• Why do Christians seem more interested in participating in a social club than living out the basic teachings of Jesus?
• Why do evangelical Christians emphasize making a “personal decision for Christ” and getting people to pray a “Sinner’s Prayer” when the Gospels don’t really show Jesus doing either of those things?
• When we go to other countries on evangelistic mission trips, are we really making a difference in people’s lives? Or are we just pushing our agendas and culture on someone else and making ourselves feel better?
• If Christians really believed their friends were bound for hell—the kind of hell where the unforgiven are tortured physically forever and ever—wouldn’t Christians do everything they could to get them “saved”? Then why don’t I?
• Why do some Christians focus so much energy on policing the culture and so little on producing it?
• If some Christians really are able to heal people, why are they pulling on big conferences—and making people come to them—rather than hanging out in cancer wards or visiting the sick?
• Are huge worship centres and gymnasiums and fancy youth buildings a natural extension of Jesus’ commission to the disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Would the early church even recognize the way we practice Christianity now?
• When people go around thinking God is speaking to them and giving them specific directions, couldn’t that “voice” just be their own imagination?
• What does Christianity look like to outsiders such as people born into Islam, or Buddhism, or some other religious system?
• If God is loving and just and concerned with the suffering of the innocent, why does he allow children to die? Why does he allow little kids’ parents to die? Why does he let terrible accidents happen? Why do Christians still get cancer like everyone else? Why does anyone get cancer?
• Why does evil exist? If God created the world and called it “good,” then where did evil originate?
• What if I had been born into another culture and practiced another religion with complete devotion, would God still allow me to be tortured for eternity in hell? Even though I was pursuing him, but through the wrong religious system?
• If one definition of a lie is “something intended or serving to convey a false impression,” then why do so many pastors wear toupees, and why does no one seem bothered by this?
I could go on and on. I haven’t asked any questions about HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, politics, the church’s response to the environment, or other hot-button issues. I haven’t gotten into my questions about tithing, and how we view financial blessings, and the whole prosperity-gospel show. I haven’t touched on the exclusivity of Christianity and why we sometimes have to explain away the verses that say Christ died to save everyone.
I haven’t listed everything because it seems like the list is already too long. It makes me nervous to ask these questions so publicly. Maybe you’ve asked some of these questions too. Maybe some of them bother you.