Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Questioning God

I have heard and read of Christians who claim they never question God, or get upset and angry if someone else questions God. A child, for example, will question God and some of the things of God and about God, only to have a self-righteous parent tell them "How dare you question God!"

David dared to question God. Thomas wondered about some things, and Jesus didn't respond by saying, "How dare you doubt me!" Instead, Jesus told Thomas to feel his side. So, I'll stand with David and Thomas and a bunch of other actual biblical figures rather than self-righteous Christians who think it's a sin to ask questions of God.

There are intra-framework questions, and there is a questioning of the entire edifice (noetic framework questioning). I've got a variety of intra-framework questions for God. They can be categorized like this.

1. Curious-wonder questions: Like "God, will I be with my loved ones in eternity? And just what will eternal life be like?" Or, "what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?" (Ps. 8:4) 

2. Burning Faith-questions: Like "God, will you be there to catch me if I now obey you and jump?"

3. Theological questions: Like "God, which (if any) explanation of your relationship to time is correct?"

4. Life-purpose questions: Like "God, what are Linda and I supposed to be doing to better love and serve others?"

5. Personal-spiritual questions: Like "God, why does it look like you answered the other person's prayers about a job but I am still jobless?" or: "God, was that you speaking to me or was it the food I just ate?"

6. Biblical textual-questions like: "God, can you tell me what's going on in the Abraham & Isaac story?"

7. Doubt-questions: Like: "God, if you are loving and powerful, why did my baby son die?" Or: "Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Ps. 10:1)

Have I had a moment of wondering about the whole framework of Christian theism altogether? Of course. In that light I remember C.S. Lewis who, when he was an atheist, sometimes had moments of atheistic doubt, doubting the entire atheistic noetic worldview. For an example of noetic framework doubting see Lewis's A Grief Observed. And note that God does not finger-flick Lewis out of existence for doing so. I am suggesting that "doubt" is endemic to the human condition, especially to all who passionately believe in someone or something.

With so many questions is a person to be considered weak in their faith? Quite the opposite. Every person who is passionate about something has questions rise up in their hearts. When, e.g., I began to fall in love with Linda but had not yet told her this, I had a number of questions, to include - "Does Linda love me, too, the way I feel I love her?" Finally, I asked her a question, which was: "Will you marry me?" I thought she would, but I did not presume so. It was with some fear and trembling that I popped this question. Prior to that I sat with her father and asked him, "May I marry your daughter?" He then proceeded to talk with me for about two hours, in the midst of which I discovered, to my great relief, that his answer was "Yes." When a person loves deeply they will question, and not to question can be a sign that real love is not there. Why? Because the issue is so consumingly important that the questions burn in our hearts in ways trivial issues do not.

Note: the serious atheist's heart burns with questions as well. The inventor-scientist who tests his creation on a human for the first time has some trembling wonder within. The musician who plays the song before their first audience can have some self-doubt. Lincoln questioned his ability to lead, and Michelangelo once wrote, as he was working on the Sistine Chapel, ''My brush is above my head and drips paint on my face. I am bent like a bow and my back aches. Dear friend, rescue me now. I am not in a good place. And I am no painter.')

I've met some who dare not "question authority." It is true that certain human authorities do not allow themselves to be questioned, wondered about, or doubted. Such people are way too insecure. God, however, feels good about himself, and invites us to bring everything to the table before him. The God-relationship, being all about presence and community, becomes the safest of places to wonder about and question all things.

There's a difference between asking questions and even doubting, and unbelief. "Unbelief" asks rhetorical questions, wanting only its own preconceived "correct answer." "Belief," on the other hand, has that look in the eye that is connected to the believing heart as it asks, "Explain this to me, will you God? Please?" From true belief springs authentic doubt. The brilliant surgeon who invents the new heart-saving technique both believes and not-believes as he cuts open his first patient.

Sometimes, probably often, God questions us. He has the right to do this, especially if this is not about "religion" but relationship. See Job 38 - 41 for a series of Job-questions God asks. Here is a give-and-take between God Almighty and not-so-Bruce Almighty. Finally Job replies back to God, "I know that you can do all things."

I do, too. And sometimes I want to know "How?", "Why?", and "When?" I do not see that God despises us for wanting to know such things.