I tend to have big conversations with my kids. I think they sometimes hate it, but, it’s their own fault for having big questions. Okay, that’s a life. We actually all seem to enjoy them, even if we don’t entirely agree, or if some of their questions make Emily and me pray that Jesus will return exactly right now so that we can avoid the topic.
We talk about marriage, human sexuality, abortion and the abolition thereof, transgenderism, homosexuality, politics, healthcare, education… nary a topic is left unaddressed if it’s brought up. They’re asking questions. They want to understand how the world works—and, at least to some degree, whether the Christian faith really has a place in it.
Discomfort that leads to questioning
I understand this, at least to some degree. Several years ago, I read a book by a popular young author who grew up in the Bible Belt.1 She was part of a fairly easy-going family of believers. But as she grew, she became uncomfortable with what she saw as the fundamentalist beliefs of the denomination of her youth. This discomfort led her on a journey of questioning those beliefs, and, eventually, that journey led her to come to conclusions that were, largely, the opposite of those she heard growing up.
As an adult, this author would say that it is “naïve” to believe that the account of the creation of the world, the flood and so many other aspects of the Bible—”must be literal to be true.” She wasn’t alone in this sentiment, of course. Many in our day—and many in the preceding 150 years—deeply feel the tension particularly between the Christian story and that of scientific naturalism. And many choose to double down on one side or the other.
And I get that. I didn’t grow up with any real knowledge of the Christian story. I didn’t have a category for it beyond a vague reference in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. So if you’re one who wrestles with this tension, please know I am not unsympathetic. And regardless of the discomfort, we should wrestle with it. We should allow it to be uncomfortable and continue to be so until we are fully convinced.
What does good questioning look like?
I am all for asking good questions. Good questions do more than question truth claims; they question our questioning, too. That’s why we shouldn’t dismissive specific Christian beliefs as outdated or naïve, whether we’re talking about views on creation or perspectives on gender, sexuality, and what it means to be human. To be dismissive is to risk being guilty of the same sort of (from her point of view) close-minded thinking that those like the author I mentioned rejected. It doesn’t go far enough to ask deeper questions. And that’s what we need to do. We need to ask deeper questions of our questions—to get to the heart of what we’re trying to understand. There are at least four that I find helpful: why, what, when, and how.
Question 1: “Why?”
Why would it make one naïve to believe these things must have happened in order to be true? Is it because we live in a naturalistic culture, one that tells us that only what is measurable, verifiable and repeatable is true (unless it’s inconvenient, of course)? Couldn’t one equally argue that it is naïve to believe that these things couldn’t possibly have happened? That water didn’t actually come pouring out from a rock? Or the Red Sea didn’t really part, or that everyone who is described as being possessed by a demon is really just epileptic? (Which, by the way, is incredibly disrespectful to anyone who has epilepsy…)
Question 2: “What?”
What makes a belief naïve? Why should one over another be seen that way? What are the implications of saying that Genesis 1-2 never happened? What does it mean to say that Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead? Or that he wasn’t really born of a virgin? What does it do to the foundation of the Christian faith—would anything remain?
Question 3: “When?”
When does it stop being naïve to believe something is true? When is it that this is no longer applied to earliest chapters of Genesis or the miracles of Exodus through to the end of the Prophets, but to the person of Jesus himself? Is it naïve to believe in the incarnation and the resurrection? Is it naïve to believe anything in Scripture at all?
Question 4: “How?”
How will I respond? Ultimately, this comes down to two options: will I respond in faith and believe, or will I respond in unbelief and reject?
Keep questioning until you’ve questioned your questions
Curiosity and a hunger for truth are absolutely essential. That’s what motivates us to ask good questions. But good questions don’t let us stop asking questions of a subject, they question our questions. And there’s nothing naïve about that. There’s nothing foolish about that. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be encouraged and strengthened as we see that the questions we have do have answers—and the answers are worth embracing.
- This was the late Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday.