Having questions is OK. In fact you will always have questions. If you ever hit a point where you run out of questions about the important things in your life you have either achieved the perfect enlightenment of the Buddha or sustained some kind of traumatic brain injury. Questions will keep happening. The world is big and dark and broken and beautiful and strange. And God is sometimes distant, sometimes closer than we’d like, sometimes powerless, sometimes terribly powerful. So how do we answer the big questions about our faith and our lives? What sorts of resources can we turn to? What do we need to keep in mind?
There are several things that provoke these kinds of big questions. A lot of time it’s a specific conflict. Something has blown up in our face and now we have to decide how we’re going to understand it and deal with it. Sometimes its something we see in people around us. Maybe a struggle friends or family are going through. Or maybe its encountering a different worldview of another person.
In Scripture we see these sorts of questions arising all the time. Who am I? What am I called to do? How do I understand what I’m going through? Where is God in this? How do I respond to this problem? Scriptures often show people in moments of great victory and great distress, the times when these questions become live and important. In the scriptures we see these people turning to several places for answers. Most often they begin with prayer, going to God for answers and blessings on their searching. Oftentimes they go to great prophets or the priests in the temple, looking for answers from their place of worship. Later in Scripture we find them going back to earlier texts, looking for answers or comfort in the Law or the Psalms or the stories of the prophets. The disciples and the crowds asked Jesus and the early churches sent their questions to their early leaders like Peter, Paul and James and later their Bishops.
So where can we go for answers? Well Scripture is one of our first sources as people of faith. We hear our other sources in light of this first one. We look through the bible stories for others who have struggled with similar questions. We look for God’s word in controversy and conflict. We might also turn to other Christian teachings or sources of information, books, articles or even internet sources. These give us a wider variety of voices that incorporate Scripture and theology from someone else’s point of view. We often consult our own experience and reasoning, basing our new understanding off of the things that have happened to us before. We also look for previous knowledge in past teachings, sermons, bible studies, lessons. Relationship is an odd category but an important one, we should try to remember to think of these big questions in the specific, remembering that big abstract questions often have specific effects on people around us. If your answer can’t mesh with real people you know it still needs more work.
These sources all have their pro’s and con’s. Scripture is the our first source but Scripture can often be difficult to process alone, and sometimes its difficult to find relevant passages or stories. When we go to books or especially when we go to the internet, we get a wider array of answers but we run the risk of false information and bad teaching. Past lessons are only as good as our past teachers filtered through our own sometimes faulty memories. And finally our reason and experience can be skewed by prejudices, false assumptions and past hurt. Our broken sinfulness trickles through into our intuition and reasoning just as much as our behavior. This is how we arrive at something like racism, a broken damaging way of thinking about the world that is just as much intuition and reasoning as another more positive worldview.
We also have people in our lives to help us process big questions. Friends, while often having similar life experience and limitations as ourselves, know us well and are often dealing with the same types of conflicts in a fresh recent way. Our parents have more experience and the benefit of hindsight (though this can also mean they’re a little while removed from the same issues) and they also know us as well or better than our friends. Our teachers and pastors can also be a great source of help, especially when it comes down to questions of Scripture, theology and Christian teaching.
So how do we move from someone else’s answer to our own? How do I decide that I believe it and not just that I’ve been told it? There are a couple of ways. Sometimes its through a slow osmosis. We absorb the perspectives of those around us, good and bad, over time. Without a conscious filter we will often find ourselves sharing viewpoints with those around us. This can be good, like when we learn to be like a loving or holy church member we see week after week. It can also be bad when we find ourselves imitating the bad worldview of people around us. Another way I would call digestion, slowly incorporating all the things we have heard and learned and read and experienced and making them a part of us. This can be good because we thoroughly own an idea. But we also have to remember to keep an eye on a process like this so we’re not coming up with bad ideas. We also don’t always have time for the long slow road, sometimes problems are RIGHT NOW. Sometimes we intentionally reflect on a problem, sitting down and thinking and talking and reading about one specific issue a lot until we have come to a conclusion. This is helpful because it means we have consciously considered an idea thoroughly before we take it on.
Sometimes we can’t find a good enough answer. And this is ok. God doesn’t expect us to understand everything. We try our hardest to live faithfully as best we can and know that God is with us and for us and ultimately working things for our good. Job is a very long book that is essentially one long big question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And in the end he doesn’t get a simple answer but encounters God in a strange and scary and powerful way. The Psalms are full of lament were people struggle without understanding and even grow angry with God when there doesn’t seem to be answer.
And finally, changing our big answers is hard but it’s also unavoidable. We’re changing every day. We’re growing and transforming and encountering strange new things. To not change would be impossible. But our charge is to change in holy and beautiful and powerful ways, working in the presence of God to be transformed into someone more like Christ.
So if you are ready to set out a question for us to work through together you can post it here in the comments, tweet it to @ColbyHVBC or FB or text it to me. I’ll announce our first question soon and we’ll put these processes into practice, helping each other to answer big questions together.