Dare We Ask?

On Monday we will begin our discussion about David Dark’s book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. To get us thinking in that direction and to address some of the issues that arose in the last post, I thought I’d pose two important questions about, well, asking questions:

1.    Is it irreverent to ask questions about God?

2.    Should we only ask questions to which we can find answers? 

I’ve posted my response in the first comment below. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Nine Responses that DO NOT Help a Skeptic

I ask a lot of questions – about my faith, about the world, about politics, about Christianity, about theology, about everything.   I’m rarely satisfied with easy answers, which means I’ve become a bit of a skeptic over the past few years.  I’m less certain about things, less convinced of my previously held assumptions. 

There’s a chance that this has made me a little obnoxious.  Occasionally, my persistent questioning gets too aggressive or perhaps hits too close to home, and a well-meaning friend will try to “fix” me with an abrupt response.

Here’s a list of nine that never work:

  1. “It’s arrogant for you to question God.”  - Most of the time, I’m questioning a certain theology or biblical interpretation, not God Himself. My husband knows me well enough to tell when I’m doing the latter. He’ll call me on it.
  2. “I’m sorry to hear that you do not take the Bible seriously.” - Translation from Christianese: “I’m sorry to hear that you do not agree with my interpretation of the Bible.”
  3. “God’s ways our higher than our ways.” -  Taken from a beautiful passage in Isaiah describing God’s mercy and love, this verse is commonly inserted into the conversation when someone really wants me to shut up. Translation from Christianese: “Stop asking hard questions.”
  4. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” – Then I guess we can’t really talk about it.
  5. “You should  examine your heart about this issue.” – Translation from Christianese: “You should change your mind and agree with me.”
  6. “Why can’t you just get over it?” - I got this response the other day when I said that I had a hard time accepting the idea that all non-Christians will suffer eternally in hell when most never even had the chance to be saved.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to just “get over” that.
  7. “You need to have a more childlike faith.” – But even kids ask a lot of questions... don’t they? don’t they?
  8. “That’s a stupid question,” or “the answer is so obvious.” - This may be true, but it makes me feel like a real loser for asking.
  9. “Well, Rush says...”

These responses don’t help because they send the message that God is too small to handle big questions.  For the questioner, this only heightens skepticism and fear. I wish more people understood that I’m not really searching for air-tight, black-and-white answers to all my questions about God. I’m just searching for a safe place in which to ask them.

So, can you name a tenth?

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Book Club, Babies, and By the Way...

I hope you will consider getting your hands on a copy of our book club selection for the month of May—The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark. The book includes a series of reflections on the importance of thinking critically about faith and the value of asking difficult questions regarding everything from God to religion to language to government. Dark, an acquaintance of mine and fellow Zondervan author, really struck a cord in the first chapter, where he says, “We feel pressure to believe—or pretend to believe—that God is love, while suspecting with a sinking feeling that God likes almost no one.” Later he writes, “I believe deliverance begins with questions. It begins with people who love questions, people who live with questions and by questions, people who feel deep joy when good questions are asked...The call to worship is a call to complete candor and radical questioning—questioning the way things are, the way we are, and the way things ought to be.”

It’s a great book for the month of May because my posts for that month will all connect to the broader theme of questions.  We’ll talk about the process of questioning, the history of questioning, and the importance of questioning. In addition, I’ll be asking you a lot of questions—some serious, some silly—with the goal of opening up some good dialog and getting to know one another a better. The Sacredness of Questioning Everything includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which will be useful for the blog, and I hope to include a brief interview with the author, so be thinking of what you might want to ask him. I’m really looking forward to our upcoming discussions!

On a fun note, I’d like to offer my congratulations to friend of the blog Micah, who is now a happy father of two. Liam Nathaniel was born on Wednesday, coming in at a whopping 9 lbs, 4 oz, and 22 inches long. Micah joins several from our little blog community to recently celebrate new arrivals. Julianne has some great pictures of little Harper Emerson on her blog as well.

 And by the way, you might want to check out this perspective from Megan McArdle on the subject of torture (sent to me by Micah), and this guest post  by Travis on the Jesus Creed blog about labels (“Christian” or “follower of Christ”?). 

Have a great weekend!

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Are the teachings of Jesus too radical for public policy?

Transient

Our recent discussion about torture brought to mind some tough questions I’ve been asking myself recently. Chief among them are these— 1) To what extent can we apply the teachings of Jesus to an earthly kingdom? 2) Are the teachings of Jesus too radical to take literally?

I started thinking seriously about this after a discussion with a friend of mine about the Christian response to poverty.  In the conversation, I suggested that care for the poor should be provided regardless of whether or not the poor “deserve” or “earn” it, citing the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:30-35)

My friend suggested that Jesus was speaking hyperbolically here, that such a position is too impractical to apply literally (or to America’s poor), and that we should instead defer to Paul’s instructions in 2 Thessalonians 3:10—“if a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

While I understood his position to an extent, I struggled to see why Paul should be taken more literally than Jesus on this matter.  It seemed to me that the “no work, no food” attitude was indicative of the world’s way of doing things, while “give without expecting anything in return” reflected a higher way.  Should one be applied to the government, but the other applied to the church?

I struggled with the same questions as we discussed torture yesterday. I wondered - Was Jesus speaking hyperbolically when he said, “love your enemies”?  Should we attempt to apply this to U.S. foreign policy? Is that practical? Why should we apply the teachings of Scripture to our positions on state-sponsored abortion but not to state-sponsored war? Why do some conservative Christians say that the end justifies the means when it comes to torture, but not when it comes to stem cell research? Why should our faith inform our vote in one area but not another?

Fortunately, we do not have to rely on the words of Jesus to make a case for why torture is wrong. I believe torture is wrong because it violates international law, it is a human rights abuse, it occurs without due process resulting in the abuse of innocent people, and it sets a bad precedent /example to the rest of the world.

What troubles me is this: When discussing how to apply the Bible both personally and in public policy, nine times out of ten, the words of Jesus are trumped by some other biblical passage or are discounted as impractical. And yet, when I imagine what the world would be like if we more consistently applied those teachings, I’m confident it would be a better, holier place.

As I’ve mentioned before, (check out this heated pre-election post about Dobson’s criticism of Obama), no person, denomination, or political party has a monopoly on how best to apply the Bible to public life. The Bible is not that easily contained, and I think we can all agree that the distinction between church and state is a good thing. I guess I’m just wondering if the reason we tend to flip past the Sermon on the Mount when discussing  issues of war and poverty is not because the teachings of Jesus are impractical...but because they are hard.

Just before he was crucified, Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

So what are we to do when we have dual citizenship? To what extent can we apply the teachings of Jesus to an earthly kingdom? And, on a personal level, are the teachings of Jesus too radical to take literally in our day-to-day lives?

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