Off-Limits Questions


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Have you ever raised your hand in Sunday school or theology class to ask a question that seems to suck the air right out of the room?

When I was a kid, I once asked my Sunday school teacher if little children got washed away in Noah’s flood along with all the other animals and rebellious people. I don’t remember how she responded, but I remember I got the feeling that I’d said something wrong, like I was poking around in places I shouldn’t be poking. The same thing happened in college when I pressed a theology professor about the destiny of the un-evangelized. If only those who are exposed to the gospel and express explicit faith in Jesus Christ receive salvation, I reasoned, then that would mean the majority of the human race is damned to hell simply for being born at the wrong place and the wrong time. It would mean that most people never had the chance to be saved. “Doesn’t that make the gospel bad news instead of good news?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that mean that Satan ultimately wins?”

As someone who consistently struggles with doubts about my faith, I’ve asked a lot of “off-limits” questions over the years, sometimes publically, sometimes privately.  What makes them seem off-limits is the way people react—nervously dodging them, shrugging them off as irrelevant, suddenly getting defensive. Such responses only fan the flames of my skepticism. Whenever people urge me to keep my objections to myself, to stop rocking the boat, I worry that maybe I’ve asked a question without a good answer. Maybe I’ve bumped into God’s awful secret.

Fortunately, I grew up in a home in which my sister and I were encouraged to ask hard questions, where we could explore our doubts and fears without judgment. That’s the kind of atmosphere I want to create on the blog—a safe place where we can share are ideas as well as our doubts.

So in that spirit, here’s the off-limits question I’ve been wrestling with recently (feel free to take a stab at it):  Why do we consider the Epistles the word of God? Would the Apostle Paul react favorably if he knew that we hailed his words in private letters to Timothy/ the church at Ephesus as the very words of God? When Paul wrote that “all Scripture is inspired by God,” didn’t he mean the Hebrew Scripture? Does he ever indicate in his letters that his words should be authoritative for all people at all times?

Just something I’ve been thinking about recently.

So what off-limits questions have you asked over the years? What questions are you asking yourself right now?  What questions have made you doubt (or perhaps even leave) the faith? Don’t worry. No question is off-limits here.

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