“It’s okay to ask questions about God.”
This is a statement I made several weeks ago to our students as we began a new series called “Unshaken.” (You can click here to listen to those messages).
When I made that statement the look on many of our students’ faces was shock. Others seemed encouraged to hear me say it, but acted as if they had never been explicitly told that before. Others seemed to already know it was okay. I’m thankful that at Bell Shoals it’s okay to ask questions. But unfortunately, the majority of local churches communicate—by what they say and/or the atmosphere they create—that asking questions really isn’t okay. And sadly, this anti question-asking stance is currently, and has for many years, been turning people away from having faith.
Two events in my life have taught me the value of asking questions and giving others permission to do the same.
First, when I was in middle school I learned that an adult I had assumed believed in God, in fact, did not. In her teenage years she started having doubts about God. She began questioning things that as a good, Christian girl growing up in the South she was simply supposed to believe. After years of asking genuine questions and searching she gave up on her faith. I remember being confused as to why nobody helped her with her questions.
Second, fast-forward to my freshman year of college when I’m struggling with my own faith. I’m invited to Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck)and after visiting for a few weeks the pastor makes the same statement I did above: “It’s okay to ask questions about God.” I was shocked! And then, weeks later, there was an entire Sunday morning dedicated to answering people’s questions. As biblical answers were given to questions, I was relieved that I could believe, released from not having to believe certain “cultural Christian” things and strengthened in my overall belief in the Christian faith.
Since my time at Meck I’ve had the opportunity to lead students. From the youth at Red Bud Baptist church in North Carolina to the youth at Bell Shoals Baptist church in Florida and other people in between, I’ve been giving permission to ask questions. And then, pointing to biblical answers, though at times admitting “I don’t know.” And the growth in people has been incredible to watch!
The cool thing is that letting people ask questions is not just something that was modeled for me by a church. Jesus himself modeled this all throughout the gospels! One of the greatest examples is in John 20:24-29 as Jesus interacts with one of his disciples, Thomas, after the resurrection. Check it out.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Now, we could talk about how Jesus appeared in a room even though the doors were locked (WHOA?!?!), but did you notice Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt?
Jesus didn’t give him a hard time.
Jesus didn’t avoid his doubt.
Jesus didn’t say “just believe.”
Jesus acknowledged it and helped him believe.
He engaged with Thomas’ doubt head on. And it even got a little bit messy. Thomas put his fingers in Jesus’ side and his hands!
It’s more difficult today than ever before for people to believe with so many conflicting messages coming at them. And in order to help people believe like Jesus did, we have to be willing to get a little bit messy. We have to get involved with people and listen to their doubts and questions. Be honest with them. And point them to answers.
Thomas doubted THE most foundational aspect of the Christian faith—the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15)—and yet Jesus did not condemn him or shy away from graciously helping him believe.
So here’s a couple questions:
If Jesus was okay with doubt and questions, shouldn’t Jesus’ followers today be okay with them too?
And if Thomas doubted THE most crucial aspect of the faith, is there any question that should be “off limits” for those trying to believe?
I think you know the right answers to those two questions.
There are many days that I still doubt and have questions about my faith. I don’t have it all together. And I never will. I’m a mess. And I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t condemn me. He doesn’t ignore me. He embraces me where I am. Just like he did Thomas.
It’s certainly not about encouraging people to question. And it’s definitely not about having all the right answers. But when church leaders start letting people ask questions—the questions our culture is asking—an important message is sent. That God is big enough to handle your questions. That Christianity can stand under any amount of intellectual scrutiny. That the church has nothing to hide. And just maybe, that Jesus himself is open to people like you and me who have doubts and questions.
If you or someone you know has questions about faith, below are several resources I highly recommend.
“The Reason for God” – Tim Keller
“Mere Christianity” – C.S. Lewis
“I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” – Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
“Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” and “Can We Believe in God?” – James Emery White
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