Thinking about the Tough Questions

In a couple of weeks we will begin “Ask Anything Friday” at 7:30 on Friday mornings before school. There are potential land minds here! Mulling over the possibilities, I have decided to put some of my thoughts here. Hopefully it will help us keep a right perspective.

Some questions carry a lot of freight.

We all know that there’s no such thing as a bad question. But the implications of some questions are enormous!  That may be why many people are so afraid to ask them. We may sense that some questions elicit controversial answers. And many of us are uneasy about how to handle controversy.

So we may fear the tough questions. They trouble us. They may threaten to upset our apple carts. They may force us to re-examine an issue that we thought we had settled.

But good questions force us to think through why we believe what we believe, and that’s always a good thing. Have you ever asked anyone what he or she believes about something? After they have given an answer have you ever asked, “Why do you believe that?” This can create a very awkward situation! For example, I, as a life-long Baptist, may know what Baptists are supposed to believe about a certain issue, but may not really know why. It’s just what I’ve always been taught. When someone asks “Why?” I can become frustrated!

Furthermore, I may not be inclined to devote the mental energy that would be required to give an answer to the why question. It’s a lot easier to say, “Because that’s just what Baptists believe, and I’m a Baptist! That’s why!”

But when we are asked a why question, it may be a wonderful opportunity that God has engineered into our lives to goad us to do a bit of study. Perhaps a wise answer might be, “Hmmm… That’s a good question! And I really can’t give you a good answer right now. Give me some time and let me get back to you on that one!”

Asking tough questions may bring a certain amount of discomfort. But I’m afraid that some of our young people have given up on church because they don’t ever seem to be able to find anyone to help them think through honest answers to tough questions.

Of course, some questions are much weightier than others.

“How many wives did David have?” may be interesting and instructive, but few people would be afraid of that one.

But a question like: “Why do we believe that the Holy Spirit is a Person?” has tremendous weight. And if you know what the answer is supposed to be, but you don’t know why, you may feel intimidated about asking.

If I get the question about David’s wives wrong, it’s no big deal. If I get the Holy Spirit question wrong, then I have a major issue about the very nature of God! People who disagree about this one are actually not worshiping the same God/god!

Still, we should not be afraid of it. There are strong reasons why Christians recognize that the Holy Spirit is a person. None of them is, “That’s just what Baptists believe!” And if I don’t know any good reasons, the question should send me digging to find out!

So one possible way to categorize questions is on the basis of the consequences that result from arriving at different answers. Some questions have heavyweight consequences. Others questions have middleweight, welterweight, or even lightweight consequences.

The heavyweight questions would have to do with the nature of God and salvation. If we get these answers wrong, the consequences are most serious. We should not be afraid to ask them, but we must take great care in getting the right answers! One answer is Christian. Another answer is not.

Heavyweight questions would include, “Is Jesus really Eternal God? Does God exist as three Persons? Is God the Father more important than God the Son or God the Holy Spirit? Is there a way to be saved without trusting Jesus?”

The middleweight  questions often divide Christians into different groups or denominations. The answers we come up with may seem to move us out of one group and into another, but not entirely out of Christianity.

Middleweight questions might include, “May women pastor churches? Is the gift of tongues still valid?  Once I become a Christian, can I later become an unbeliever? Is baptism by sprinkling less Biblical than baptism by immersion?”

Then there are the welterweight questions. These questions may be of great theological significance, but different people in the same group may arrive at different answers and still feel comfortable staying in the group, even though they may have very strong feelings about the answers.

Welterweight questions might include, “Has God already determined who will be saved? Will Jesus come before the great tribulation? Could the days of Genesis one be thousands or millions of years instead of literal days? Is it wrong to drink a glass of wine? Which English translations of the Bible are most accurate? Do I cause people to go to hell when I do not witness to them?”

Lightweight questions would be those that would probably not cause a great deal of emotional debate. These would also include simple factual information questions. “How many wives did David have? How often should one take the Lord’s Supper? Are Christians who have died aware of what’s happening on earth?”

These categories are somewhat arbitrary. There are other questions that we might have trouble categorizing. “What is the nature of hell?  Is the Bible inerrant?  Does God ever bring people to faith in Christ apart from personal or group evangelism?” Do answers to these questions determine whether we are Christian or not? or whether we can still identify with our group? or merely that we have strong, but tolerable, disagreements with believers in our group?

Here are a few guidelines that may help us as we deal with the tough questions.

  • No question is unimportant or dumb.
  • We should never be afraid to ask any question.
  • Some questions require lots of study and thought.
  • It’s OK to change our minds as we grow in Christ.
  • We may have to accept “I don’t know” as an answer for a long while. (Perhaps until after the resurrection!)
  • “That’s just what Baptists (fill in your own group) are supposed to believe,” is not a very satisfying answer.
  • We must keep a teachable spirit.
  • Anger, condescension, and arrogance  have no place in a Christian discussion of sincere questions, regardless of their weight. (Sadly, some Christians try to intimidate others as a defense when they are not confident about their answers.)
  • We must stay humble about our convictions, especially when other serious-minded Christians disagree with us.

Good questions can be God’s way of spurring us to deeper study and thought. Good questions can lead us to a more mature understanding of God and His purposes. Good questions can lead to our becoming stronger in Christ.

Don’t be afraid of them!

Stay in the battle!

Steve Hall

P.S. God definitely models the role for asking questions in His Word! There are tons of them! Here are just a few…

“Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?… Who do you say that I am?… What is truth?… Who is this King of Glory?… What must I do to be saved?… Are You then the Son of God?… What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?… Can anything good come from Nazareth?… Who are you, Lord?… Who gave man his mouth?… Does He who formed the eye not see?… Is anything too hard for me?… Can these bones live?… Who has known the mind of the Lord?”