In my short time thus far in ministry, I’m amazed by the number of people I’ve encountered in the church who quake or succumb to silence when given the chance to ask pressing personal questions regarding topics such as God’s nature, presence, and work in the world, the Bible and its many ambiguities and apparent contradictions, other denominations and religions, etc. I see it regularly—ranging from teenagers frightened that the wrong question will mean immediate failure in Confirmation to anxious elders in the congregation who were once told that such inquiry can lead one off of the straight-and-narrow path of righteousness. I’ve heard firsthand accounts from people who were taught either by clergy, family members, or others that to question matters of faith is considered a sin. Others have shared with me how after finally mustering up the courage to ask a question, upon doing so they were publicly shot down—embarrassing them from ever participating again. Far too many people—within and beyond the church—have been conditioned to believe that there are strict parameters of belief one must stay within, faith has no room for questions of any kind, or (most atrocious) they themselves do not possess the intellect to delve more deeply into matters intriguing and unknown. The church and its leaders, in many times and places, have failed those whom Christ calls to serve—either due to an unwillingness to explore in eagerness to learn and grow, inability to affirm searching hearts and minds, or selfishness to hoard what is not reserved for a select few.
To question one’s faith is neither a problem nor a sin—rather a sign of trust (faith) and hope growing, eager to stretch and explore “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33). The path to Hell—if there is one—is not paved with questions, but if anything, complacency. I recently read in a Lenten devotional where the author referred to asking questions as worshipping God with one’s mind. When we ask questions of our faith, we do so with the trust that our wellbeing and relationship with God are not based on what we know or don’t know, what we say or don’t say, where we stumble or how tall we stand—but that we are saved from sin, death, and the devil solely by the grace and love of Christ as beloved children of God. There is no such thing as foolish, stupid, or wrong questions. A question cannot hurt you; at best—enlightened and guided by the Spirit—it can lead you to share in the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Critical to daily affirming one’s baptismal vocation, asking questions helps to form us in faith and fervent love toward one another.
There’s no guarantee that every question we ask will be answered. Some will inevitably have to wait until Jesus’ second-coming, and I’m sure many of us have our accumulating lists. Many times the answer, if there is one, is difficult to find or only comes with time or after experiences. Part of the beauty of questioning our faith—though it may not always feel as such—is sitting, and wrestling, with the tension of silence. In our deep wonderings, we can often times feel like Jacob struggling with God all night—in the end, pierced by the question yet abundantly blessed in ways we don’t yet fully understand. Even when an answer is not received, asking the question gives us freedom to explore our language and life experiences, to share in mutual dialogue and support with each other, and to imagine the future the Triune God is bringing about in our midst. Pondering and discussing the questions of one’s faith, does not make a person any less sinless or more righteous. Instead, in doing so, we are drawn by the Holy Spirit to love, trust, and serve more reverently the God whom we cannot see; and love, trust, and serve our neighbor more faithfully.
Questioning that which we don’t understand, those things that puzzle and otherwise anger us, leads us to live more fully as people of hope. The Apostle Paul reminds us that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Hope informs our questioning, and in speaking our inner yearnings to understand we speak our hope—sharing it with the world around us, trusting that our hope is finally fully realized in God. Hope, and not fear, should be the ground of our questioning—for in hope, not fear, we learn, grow, and live as God intends for us. Do not be afraid to ask the question. Faith is the mouth that speaks our faith questions, and hope is the breath that lifts them to the ears of God and those around us.