Is it okay to ask questions?

For GQ - 20061018

Many of us were raised to be cautious about asking questions, particularly about faith. After all, as thousands of bumper stickers and key rings have put it, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Is that a good approach to faith? Perhaps for a blind faith. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Faith is living in the tension between two realities — what we experience in our fallen world and what we know to be true about the kingdom of God.

Jesus loves a good question

Some believers have been taught that it’s wrong to question. InterVarsity area director Shawn Young writes in his article “Ask away!”, “Having questions is extremely important. Why? Because we will not possess answers until we first possess questions. Questions lead to understanding and understanding leads to a deeper faith. Probably the most crucial thing you can do to develop a stronger faith in God is to ask lots of questions! Did you know that in the Gospels there are 80 separate instances where people brought their questions to Jesus? He spent more time asking and answering questions than he did preaching and healing. Jesus loved a good question!”

Knowing that Jesus loved questions is good news, because a lot of us have the wrong idea about questioning the teachings of the Bible. Shawn continues: “We’ve been taught that it’s wrong to question anything the Bible says, that we should just accept everything and not ask why or how. We’ve been told that faith means just believing in something — even if it makes no sense at all.

“There is a bumper sticker popular among Christians that demonstrates this anti-questioning attitude perfectly. It is usually found on the bumper of a 1974 half-ton pickup. It says, ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it.’”

“That bumper sticker irritates me, and here’s why. Jesus always listened, responded and even rewarded people who came to him with honest questions. The ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it’ mentality is just blind acceptance. It makes it seem as if God is not interested in a dialogue with us. And this could not be further from the truth.”

Not all questions are created equal

Most of those who encountered Jesus were either attracted or repelled by what he said and who he claimed to be. For some, Jesus represented hope, and for others, he was a threat to their image, position or lifestyle. The questions people ask reveal a lot. In his article, Shawn points to some of the seeking/clarifying questions that people in the Bible asked Jesus. Here are a few:

  • “How many times should I forgive someone?”
  • “If something bad happens to you—is that God punishing you?”
  • “Is wealth a sign that God is happy with you?”
  • “Why do you keep speaking in parables? What do they have to do with us?”
  • “How can anyone accept what you are teaching? It’s a lot to swallow!”

Every one of these questions led to a deeper understanding of Jesus and his kingdom. Jesus responded to all of them and gave the person much more understanding.

And here are a few of the more defensive questions for Jesus, asked mostly by religious leaders:

  • “Why don’t you follow all our rules and traditions?
  • “Why don’t you care what people are saying about you?”
  • “Do you realize that you are offending the religious people around here?”
  • “Who said you could heal people on the Sabbath? Who gave you the right?”

“These spiritual ‘know-it-alls’ didn’t seek to understand,” says Shawn. “They were not open-minded. They were trying to catch Jesus on something or find a flaw. They had already decided Jesus was wrong and were looking for a way to prove it. In some cases, they just didn’t like what he was saying because they knew it was true. They really didn’t want to change anything in their own lives.”

So is it okay to ask questions? You bet! But remember to take stock of your intent. Are you asking with an open heart seeking understanding? Or are you asking a defensive question in order to justify an attitude you don’t intend to change, if understanding were to require repentance? A good question seeks understanding and reveals a teachable heart.