Recently, I received an email from a young seminarian with one provocative question: “What is truth?” she asked.
I smiled and deleted the email, knowing I couldn’t supply an answer. Her theological studies were raising new and unsettling questions about God and what it means to be a Christian. I suspect what she wanted was permission to question her understanding of God and the Christian worldview she learned growing up.
Does God Care?
My own questioning began when I worked in the refugee camps in Thailand in the 1980s. I was horrified by the atrocities many of the refugees had experienced. Starving children died in my arms. “Does God care?” I wondered as I struggled to understand.
There was no place in my theology for such pain and suffering in the lives of others.
This moment was the pivotal point of my life. My world and faith upside down. Everything I believed about God and what it meant to be a Christian was up for grabs. As I searched for answers, I felt like a four-year-old raising questions about the world.
Over the next few months the walls of the small box in which I had placed God were broken down. My faith in God was strengthened and my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian moved beyond my rather self-centered approach to one in which I recognized the otherness of Christian faith.
God did care about the poor I realized and expected me to act as a representative of that care.
Many of us grow up in very small faith boxes that emphasize a narrow view of discipleship. Sometimes we unwittingly discourage questioning in our congregations that seem to challenge the authority of God, of the Bible or our leadership. We are afraid that questioning what we have said is the truth will destroy our church. Unfortunately, our efforts to preserve what we believe often end up strengthening the walls of our boxes and stunt our congregations.
All of life is a questioning about “What is truth?” as anyone who is surrounded by young children knows. They constantly barrages us with questions about where we are going and what we are doing. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to care much about our well thought out answers. They just want us to provide a safe environment in which questions can be raised and explored.
Some of the answers may take a lifetime to uncover.
Should Leaders Answer Questions?
I think the true purpose of Christian leaders church is similar to that of a parent. We are not meant to tell our fellow journeyers what we think the answers to life’s questions are. Our purpose is to provide a healthy environment in which they are unafraid to grapple with difficult questions about God, Christian faith and what it means follow Christ in today’s world. In the process, we may discover we have more to learn through their questions than we have to teach.
Jesus specialized in this kind of discipleship building and was a master at the art of questioning. As his disciples followed him around the countryside watching him heal, preach and set people free it raised many questions in their minds that pushed them outside their Jewish culture and traditions. The questions Jesus raised reshaped their understanding of God and of what it meant to be a follower of God.
Jesus knew how to ask questions that uncovered peoples’ deep spiritual hunger. He told stories that encouraged his audiences to ask searching questions about faith and their relationship to God. Maybe most importantly Jesus knew how to make tantalizing remarks that challenged his followers to question the status quo and the prevailing culture’s beliefs about God and faith.
In order to ask good questions, we need to be willing to listen to people who view the world and Christian faith through very different lenses than our own. It is good and often very liberating for us to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that we have much to learn from people of different cultures and religions.
Often, it is only as we listen to people who think very differently about faith and our world that we truly learn who God is and what it means to be a Christian. We need to learn to trust that the Holy Spirit working in us. He is working in the lives of those around us will guide all of us into God’s truth (John 16:13). This guidance is moving each of us further on our journey toward an understanding of God and God’s purposes for us and for all humanity.
My questioning did not stop in Thailand. I continue to interact with people who see the world from other cultural and faith perspectives. Their viewpoints frame new questions for me. They stretch and mould my life in ways that continue to enrich my faith and expand my understanding of God.
For example, when we worked with aboriginal Christians leaders in Australia they asked me “How did God view the Canaanites?” They identified themselves with the people displaced when the Israelites moved into the promised land. For the first time in my life, I found myself asking questions about the rights of native peoples not only in Australia but around the world.
Early Christians felt they were privileged to live in a non-Christian society. They believed that it was through their interactions with non-Christians that they learned what it meant to be Christian.
This openness to questioning needs to be at the core of our approach as Church Planters, apostles, evangelists and all people who want to follow God into mission. Listen to people from different cultures and backgrounds in your community.
Ask them about their views on life, faith and God.
Ask them what they think it means to be a Christian.
Perhaps you, too, will find that your faith and that of your congregation and is enriched and strengthened.
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