is it okay to question God?

Category : God, choice, faith

If you follow football at all, you’ve already heard about the “drop heard around the world.”  During last week’s Steelers – Bills game, Stevie Johnson, dropped a sure touchdown for the Bills.  In fact, it would have dramatically won the game in over time.  In all my years of watching football, rarely have I seen a wide receiver drop such a sure catch.

Immediately after the game, I heard both journalists and Steelers players give the usual it was a “miracle” talk.  And say things like, “God helped us”.  Maybe that’s true.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure how often God gets involved in football.  (Although I certainly don’t mind if he’s a Steelers fan.)

After the game the Bills receiver (Johnson) had a different reaction.  He tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!  AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”

That tweet immediately went around the internets, and turned up in stories headlined things like “Bills receiver blames God for drop.

But that’s not how I see it.  (And I’m not sure that’s how Stevie Johnson would see it.)  I don’t even see him blaming God at all.  I see a young guy (24) who is really questioning his faith.  When I was 24 I was a hard-core atheist.  So it seems to me that Johnson has a bit over me when I was his age.

People who don’t believe in God love these stories because it “proves” God doesn’t exist.  At the same time Christians who fear undermining God hate these stories because it seems to question God’s goodness.

Which means that it’s a perfect storm to get news headlines.

But for me it reminds me of my own experiences with God.  As I said, when I was 24 I didn’t believe in God.  Not long after I began to question everything about God and my life.  It was out of that immense pain and suffering that I turned to him, realizing he was the only thing complete enough to heal me.  That’s what I hear in that tweet.  Someone who is just looking for how God can be loving, but at the same time let such painful things happen to us.

In the end, I don’t mind Stevie Johnson’s comments, whether he blames God or not.  I think honest searching for answers always brings us closer to God.  Which is what he wants in the first place!  So my prayer is that Johnson does learn from his drop and let’s God redeem this experience.  I don’t know how.  But God’s a master at redeeming things.  And that’s enough for me.  I hope it’s enough for Johnson.

questioning Jesus

Category : taking action

If you had a chance to question Jesus, would you?

Our natural reaction is “you bet I would!”  But that’s a very different picture than the one the Bible paints.  In fact the people closest to Jesus often didn’t question Jesus.

“But they didn’t understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask him about it.” (Mark 9: 32)

The Disciples were an interesting group.  On the one hand they witnessed things that most of us never will.  They saw miracles like people coming back from the dead (in non-zombie form) and the blind seeing.  On top of all that they also had a chance to spend time 1-on-1 with God.

Now we can all talk to God in prayer.  We can all get our questions answered that way.  Prayer is an amazing thing.  But it’s not the same as talking to God while having a cup of Starbucks.  The disciples though did this (although I’m not sure how many Starbucks there were in Galilee).  They were able to talk, laugh, and just spend time with Jesus.  They had a unique opportunity that none of us will get in this life.

And yet time and again they passed up on the opportunity to question Jesus.

Right before Jesus was crucified he began to talk about dying.  The disciples, however, wanted no part of that conversation.  They believed Jesus was going to be a great military leader.  That he was going to reestablish a literal and physical kingdom, much like David.  In short he was going to make Israel a world power again.

They didn’t want to listen to him talk about death.  In their minds it just didn’t make sense.  And it terrified them.  So they did what most of us would do: stick our fingers in our ears and go “la la la la.”

It would be as if George Washington had told his troops on the eve of the Revolutionary War that he was “about to die”?  Or if Lincoln, during the height of the Civil War said he was about to die.  People would have been terrified.  Their leader, the person they put all their faith in, was going to die?  How did that make sense?  What was he talking about?

I think the disciples were afraid not just because Jesus said he would die, but because they couldn’t understand how Jesus’ death would bring about their image of a messiah.  Dead leaders don’t win wars after all.

Out of all of us the disciples were in the best position to question Jesus.  Yet they didn’t.  They let fear hold them back.  They more afraid of the truth than willing to trust Jesus.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if the disciples hadn’t let fear rule those moments.  Would the days following the crucifixion look different if they had really understood what Jesus’ death had meant?  What if the disciples had pursued an answer from Jesus?  Would he have given it to them?

Of course that makes me think about you and I.  What would our lives look like if we questioned Jesus for the truth, instead of letting fear stop us short?

We are often too afraid to ask God for help.  We’re afraid to ask because he might say “no.”  We’re afraid to ask, because what does it mean if nothing happens?  We’re afraid to ask, because we can’t see beyond our current problems.  If we’ve only ever known suffering and fear, what else could there be?

We may be angry and yell at God and “question” his authority or justice.  But we rarely question God seeking real answers.  We don’t want to understand what God has in mind for our lives if it means learning that it’s not what we expected.  And isn’t that when we’re the angriest at God?  When our expectations don’t match reality?  How much less suffering we would endure if we just questioned God and actually listened for an answer!

what i’m reading: Faith & Doubt

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Category : God, different, faith, feeding my brain

  

I grew up never questioning what I was told about God.  I just accepted everything at face value.  Especially the part about “if you’re good everything will work out.”  So when I suffered a horrible set back in college, my faith shattered.  It simply couldn’t withstand the onslaught of doubt and questions.

It wasn’t until years later that I found a rekindled belief in God.  This time, instead of taking everything at face value I was filled with questions.  Is the Bible real? Is it relevant to my life? Why doesn’t God prove he exists? If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?  I knew I could never believe in God until I wrestled with these questions.

To me questioning your faith can be one of the most important things you do.  I slowly learned that despite what I had been told, God never intended for us to hide our heads in the sand.

Likewise he never intended for us to act as if we had all the answers.

The story of Job cuts right to this matter.  Despite all of Job’s suffering he never learns why his life fell apart (it was a wager between God and Satan).  Even though God spoke to him and helped him come to terms with everything, God never revealed the reason why.  Job could have speculated all he wanted, but it’s unlikely he ever would have come up with the real reason.  Job didn’t have all the answers.  And his friends, who thought they had all the answers, turned out to be wrong as well.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

This is why John Ortberg’s new book Faith & Doubt appeals to me: I don’t know everything.  And yes, that’s hard to admit.

For most of us the words “faith” and “doubt” are separated by miles.  They couldn’t be perceived as more opposite.  We’ve been told we should never doubt any aspect of our faith has left us feeling guilty when we have questions.  Instead of addressing our doubts, we let them slowly erode our faith.  Is that how we’re supposed to feel?

Life is filled with difficulty and ambiguity.  And God doesn’t always give us clear cut explanations.  Just ask Job.  Yet we still need to operate in the midst of all this confusion.  As Ortberg points out, faith isn’t about 100% certainty.  It’s not about theological perfection.  It’s about going that last step, based on what you understand.  It’s about taking that “leap of faith” not because you know everything, but because you’ve come to some good conclusions based on what you do know.  Faith is about trusting in who God is, not what principles you have surrounded yourself with.

Faith & Doubt is filled with great information, good illustrations, and intriguing arguments.  As a whole I personally find it compelling.  But none of that is what I really take away from the book.  What I take away is something simpler:  it’s okay to have questions.

Which takes us right into R3’s mission (learning how to live out a life of faith).  This is rarely neat, and often a messy process.   We don’t always get directly from point A to point B.  Sometimes we need to ask questions.  Sometimes true exploration of faith raises hard issues.  At least that’s what’s happened in my own relationship with God.  As I struggle to understand what it means to live out a life of faith, I find I have questions.  That I have doubt.

Sometimes this doubt is significant (did God really kill people because he was angry?)  And sometimes this doubt is more trivial (Did Adam and Eve really live for hundreds of years?)  If I allowed myself to focus on the fact I don’t know everything, my relationship with God would end.  How could it continue?  If my requirement for true “faith” is 100% certainty, how do I console a family who loses a child when they ask if God is a loving god?  How do I reach out to the hurting when you expect theological perfection?

You can’t.

That’s why I will always have some doubt.  But I will also always have faith.  After reading Faith & Doubt, I no longer see faith and doubt as words separated by distance.  Instead I see them as part of the complicated picture of who God is. 

And I’m okay with that.

questioning your faith

Category : God, Jesus, bible, faith, living a life of faith

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One of the dangers surrounding religion is it tends to crush our ability to question.

The rules, organizations, and social pressures of the religion give the impression that having any kind of doubt is an affront to God.  And so we stop asking questions.  We check our brains at the door.  We give up one of our traits that makes us like God: our ability to think.

It seems to me that somewhere along the way we have confused the message.  We have jumped from “faith” (a good thing) to “blind faith” (something the Bible never encourages).

Perhaps the best known example of doubt comes from Thomas.  (Hint: he’s called “doubting Thomas” for a reason.)

Thomas wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he had hard, cold evidence in front of him.  What did God do?  He certainly didn’t take this as an insult.  He didn’t throw a fit saying, “how dare you question me?!”  Instead, Jesus showed up and gave Thomas exactly what he was looking for.  Thomas was not smote for his unbelief.  Thomas wasn’t punished for his doubt.  In fact, Jesus simply states, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus calls us to faith, not stupidity.

The Bible is filled with people who doubt – from Moses to David, to Peter and Thomas.  It’s not that we need absolute proof, it’s that we need to act on the faith that we have.

But that’s not the message so often delivered.  Is it any wonder our world collapses the minute we’re confronted with suffering and pain?  We cry out, “where are you God?!  How could this happen to me?!”  What we once never questioned now seems so untrue.  Faith seems empty and hollow.  And we begin to wonder, “does God really exist?”

So we walk away from our faith.

Ironically we walk away with as few questions as when we started to believe.  We assume our suffering must be God’s fault.  It rarely occurs to us that maybe there’s another reason our lives are miserable and we are hurting.

Perhaps we are suffering because we are being pruned.  Perhaps it’s because we did something God has warned us not to do.  There’s a reason things like murder and adultery are listed in the 10 commandments – they have bad consequences!  Or maybe we’re suffering simply because the world is broken and bad things happen.

In all three of those cases it becomes important to ask questions.  In fact, it’s probably the best thing we can do.  The worst thing we can do is shrug and say “it’s God’s will.”  I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like us blaming him for things we screw up.  And if it really is God’s will, then don’t you think we should be asking what he wants?

God never says, “check out.  Don’t bother to use your head.”

Now doubt can be toxic.  Don’t get me wrong.  We can become consumed with “absolute truth.”  We can convince ourselves that we are just “honestly questioning” things.  When in reality we are simply showing blind doubt because we don’t want to confront the implications of God.

The truth is, we will never get 100% certainty.  At least not on this side of life.  There will always be some level of “faith” in your decision to believe, or to not believe.  That’s just the way the world is.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask God questions.  For the next week I encourage you to find out what assumptions you hold about him.  Look to see if they are true, or if they are false.  But ask questions!

There’s never a better time to start questioning your faith than today!