So often we want people to arrive. We want them to know.
We have our heritage of modernity to thank for this, our obsession with facts and figures, statistics and scientific methods. And lists, endless lists. Many churches have articles of
knowing faith that say in relatively plain language, “Here it is. This is what we believe. These are the theological rules that we play by. Disagree with these and we might kick you out.”
And slowly, subtly, the 11th Commandment oozes into view.
“Thou Shalt Not Ask Questions.”
And this ends up projecting the message, “Thou Shalt Not Seek.” Don’t wrestle with scripture – we have it all figured out! Don’t engage these truths you see in nature or art or inside yourself – take our word for it! Interpret life the way we do! It’s so much easier when everyone agrees!
Sometimes our reaction to questions scares me. I see how the church responds to books like “Love Wins” and it makes me sad about life. Not because of any particular theological response, but because of the way these responses are communicated. The same types of responses are given no matter what the question.
“What if it is God’s will to eventually reconcile everyone to himself?”
“What if what many scientists believe is true, that the world we know now evolved, and that the Genesis account provides us with a beautiful narrative of the truth beyond the physical (ie, the truth that really matters)?”
“What if the New Testament mandates against homosexuality were simply cultural, to be treated the same way many believers now treat Paul’s prohibition of women teachers?”
These are all difficult questions. Well, at least to many people they are. But when the questions are shot down with pat answers and memorized verses quoted out of context, the sides only become further entrenched, and the one doing the seeking quickly realizes that the place in the middle, the place for questions and gathering facts and learning, is actually a rather unsafe place to dwell. There’s a crossfire going on there. Stay too long and you’ll get your head blown off.
* * * * *
We have lost the art of seeking. Arrival is everything. But check this out.
Moses is giving his penultimate speech to the nation of Israel before they cross over into the Promised Land. He explains what will happen if they obey God (life), and what will happen if they disobey (death). And then he makes a curious statement:
But even there [in exile and following false gods], if you seek God, your God, you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul. Deuteronomy 4:29
In other words, there’s always hope. Even if you go the wrong way, even if you get totally off track, you can still find God.
The act of seeking can lead to salvation. Now there’s a thought. Wrestling with truth, peering into the darkness, searching for meaning…these are the things that will help those far from God actually find him. It’s like that verse, “
Know Seek and you will find.”
We need to allow more room for seeking, for questioning, for uncertainty. Apparently it might lead us to God.
22 Replies to “The 11th Commandment”
I know that my writing frustrates some because I seem to be evading answering questions, but the thing is, I don’t have a lot of answers. So my responses aren’t going to be very satisfying.
I’ve had answers in the past. I like the questions.
Thanks, Alise. I love blogs that ask questions.
Someone I care about posted yesterday about how asking questions can be very sinful. Made me want to slam my head into something. Thanks for this encouragement.
That is awful!
“When we are at our wits end for an answer, then the Holy Spirit can give us an answer. But how can He give us an answer when we are still well supplied with all sorts of answers of our own?” –Karl Barth
That is an awesome quote.
Another great post Shawn,
It’s like you took my thoughts and put them in writing. Lately I’ve been pondering about the very same things you just wrote.
Thanks for reading, Gordie.
We are never closer to someone than when we are wrestling with him/her. Wrestling is a contact sport. I think God enjoys wrestling with us, just like I enjoy wrestling with my son.
Great illustration. I think you’re right. I feel better about God and most enjoy my relationship with Him when I am honestly exploring ideas about Him rather than limiting my thinking.
When you look back at your own life you see all these ways that you have grown. You see all these ways that you thought you knew everything but totally didn’t. You see all these ways that God was patient with you and these ways that others were patient with you.
So why are we so afraid of questions and challenges? Why can’t we be patient with others as they figure stuff out?
I like that perspective. So much changes through the years. If we can remember that, perhaps we would hold our “knowledge” less defensively.
Shawn, this was an outstanding post – elegant, thoughtful and eloquent.
Wonderful thoughts communicated beautifully. Thank you for this.
I’ll throw some mild criticism into the mix, lol, but I do very much agree that questions should not be shut down simply because they challenge the current theological viewpoint.
In cases like evolution it seems more and more like the progression of science will lead one to a different interpretation of the Genesis account, to some degree that is, and it seems proper to reconcile our interpretation of a possible allegorical account with the record of nature(even if it does make the problem of evil a bit trickier). I don’t feel that young earth creationism is evidentially supported.
If Rob Bell’s book is anything like his promo videos he seems to me quite unhelpful, using questions to present a view while not stating them clearly as they are just seems dodgy. I am all about questioning soteriological systems, and I am quite undecided on lots of points, but to question fundamental orthodox doctrines you have to run through all the fathers of the faith and be honest with scripture that challenges your view. If at the end of the road you end up with a view that is not orthodox Christianity in some form, and you persist in calling your self a Christian, by definition you have left the faith as classically understood, and those who decry Bell are justified in their criticism. From what I have seen calling Bell a heretic is mostly unjustified(his views may be heterodox however), and the fervor is perhaps overblown. But these things are important and they deserve sharp scrutiny and careful reason, the post-modern mindset that all views are equally valid seems to cloud the issue.
Homosexuality still seems to me to be clouded by the society that is trying to interpret a proper view of it. In a culture that glorifies sex and makes personal fulfillment the final standard to judge morality, is it any surprise that this is big problem? It is important to make the distinction between sexual attraction and sexual behavior, then approach the scripture to see what it has to say. The Christian single would have just as much right as the homosexual to be upset at God for his command to be chaste in mind and action if marriage is never realized, and let’s not forget that to follow Christ is to lay down your rights and take up your cross. As far as the issue goes in scripture, I really enjoy listening to queer theology, I have yet to be convinced by their arguments, but I am very willing to go down the road with them.
These are tough questions, and I feel that answers should be held in humility and a genuine love for those who disagree. I don’t think that this approach should be taken to the conclusion that since I am not 100% sure of my views I cannot state them firmly and clearly, even if they are in sharp conflict with others. Views on the most important matters in life should be taken seriously, and clear challenges and rebuttals are fantastic tools for helping one arrive to where he believes truth is found. (Sorry for the length!)
Thanks Nick. Looks like another Sunday morning conversation is in order. :)
I’m looking forward to it! :)
Just a thought Shawen – the point of most questions (but not all) is to get answers – hopefully truthful answers. If the word of God didn’t have answers, why would people come to the church for them? It has also been my observation, that unfortunately many questions aren’t asked in order to find truth. Sometimes churches and church leaders are impatient with people who ask questions that have plain and simple answers in the Word of God because those who ask aren’t looking for answers, they want excuses, and as long as we pose as seekers, we don’t have to become servants. That doesn’t mean that we should not be patient with people who are really asking a sincere question, but it helps to understand why church leaders can be closed to questions more than we would like.
My dad is a pastor, Terry, so I know exactly what you are talking about. There are a lot of people who like to “ask questions” as a way of stirring up trouble or justifying their own choices.
In my experience though, many (most?) churches treat almost all questions as though they have plain and simple answers (the answers, of course, change depending on your denominational preference or personal theology).
I know it can be tiresome to continually walk along the same lines of questioning with person after person after person, but I think one of the greatest challenges the church has when it comes to connecting with my generation is the presentation of Truth without a willingness to engage in discussion.
Thanks for your thoughts. The sincerity of the question definitely plays a role.
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