Where Have the Good Questions Gone? Discovering Questioning As Spiritual Practice

When I was growing up, I learned to ask questions.  This wasn’t something that just my parents taught me to do but also something I was taught in school.  In the elementary years I learned those basic ones: who, what, when, where, how, why, how much, and how many?  My teachers in middle school and high school expanded on those and pushed me to dig deeper.

Then I moved the middle of my junior year in high school.  When I got settled in to my classes I began to find something missing…questions.  They weren’t invited and they weren’t particularly welcome in the subjects where I found them most needed. 

Thing is, we all find different things to be intrigued about and subjects which are of greater interest to us than others.  I suspect that for most of us, what we question changes over time, in fact, I have little doubt of it.  How deeply we explore those questions is in fact the question.  In her book, RealPower, Janet Hagberg hits on this very point when we enter the period she calls, Stage Four  or Power by Reflection.  Her research and thoughts reflect much of the work of Piaget, Kohlberg, Gilligan and others in developmental research.

Hagberg notes that people at this point in their lives (approaching middle age usually), “…find it difficult to escape the gnawing internal questions…one day the world all fits together; the next day it all falls apart (77).”  Hagberg goes on to explore the spiritual repercussions of this life stage in her book , “The Critical Journey”and notes, “…the answers are replaced by questions.  Instead of having had God pretty well figured out and having accepted or rejected others’ views of God, we now have to contend with a God who is much more personally available to us (98).” 

It seems overstated, unenlightened and even uneducated to simply dismiss religion and faith at this point and say religions don’t want to face questioning.  I would argue it has nothing to do with the subject or topic but the people who themselves are unable to simply ask questions or allow questions to be asked.  Most people don’t want to move into what Robert Kegan describes as a “new orientation” defined by “contradiction and paradox (229, The Evolving Self).”

But the follower of Jesus Christ, who maybe anxious and concerned, should not be fearful of such times.  Truthfully, to follow after Jesus Christ is to walk a true new orientation (are we not to be “born again” (John 3:3) and the teachings of Jesus, especially in his parables, lead us to contradictions and paradoxes again and again (consider Jesus’ teaching on hating family in Luke 14:25-27 or the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32).   

How often do you hear platitudes that sound like scripture preached or past on and never questioned?  This past week as I was facilitating a Disciple Bible Study course we encountered the subject of “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  That conversation led me to more questions. Just where is this in the Bible?  As a list, they never appear.  Why do protestant churches even pay attention to these, after all this is from Roman Catholicism?  Is it because there is some truth here?  After all, I’ve seen denominations that tend to be very anti-Roman Catholic preach sermon series on these. Go figure.  Digging deeper, did you know there is a history that goes farther back into the earliest days of the Christian faith – that the list of seven began with a list of the Eight Passions (for more reading on this consider Roberta Bondi’s book, “To Love As God Loves”)?

Go back to the third chapter of John’s Gospel and follow the dialogue.  It is so easy to condemn Nicodemus for what we may find to be silly questions but the fact is Nicodemus came questioning and Jesus did not condemn him for it.  It seems to me, Jesus questions the lack of examination, the lack of questions being asked by the Jewish teachers of the day. 

Yet when we speak of spiritual practices, I cannot recall a conversation where the practice of questioning came up.  The more I join people in conversation regarding their relationship with God, the more I find that the questions I ask are as significant, if not more so, than the answers I could give.  Consider the man at the monastery who came to Abba Poemen and asked, “How can I acquire the fear of God?”  To which Abba Poemen replied, “How can we acquire the fear of God when our belly is of cheese and preserved foods?”

How much sense would it make if Abba Poemen’s response had been, “To acquire the fear of God, stop eating cheese and preserved foods.”  I think you get my point.  The power of a question can far outweigh the simplicity of a “straight answer.”  The story of Job proves that God is not fearful of our questions.  Nor should we be afraid to ask them, of God and one another.

Through this day and the coming week, consider the situations you may find yourself in and question them.  When you are incredibly convinced you are correct or your thoughts are solid, question them anyway.  If you are going to be having time with God in prayer or reading from the Bible, consider taking the time to join in the practice of asking questions.

May I Suggest?

1.  Read through any of the Gospels and find all the times questions are asked of Jesus or that Jesus asks.  What surprises you?  How does this influence your view of God?  What do you think God is trying to say to you?

2.  Before you listen to another sermon, pray for guidance and prepare some questions that you will ask.  What other directions could the preacher have gone with those verses?  Why did the preacher go with this theme or idea?  Is the overall sermon consistent with what I know about God?  How did I meet God in a new way today?

3.  The next time you are reading from the Bible or you find yourself in a conversation about God, consider the age old questions to ask: Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why?


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