Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. -1 Cor. 8:2
“What is truth?” -John 18:38
Questions are the prerequisite to the spiritual life. If you want to grow in your understanding of God (or really anything), learn to ask good questions.
Small groups often pose questions to get people to begin to share their perspective and life together. Good mentors learn to ask questions which help us clarify our vision of the world. Throughout the Bible, God even asks questions which invite self-reflection about where we are and how we got there (see, for example, Genesis 3:8 and God’s question, “Where are you?”). My scriptural study is most fruitful when I ask probing questioning of the text and try to chase down the answers.
We know the value of good questions, but we often view questioning with suspicion. Ask questions but don’t question the leadership. Ask questions but don’t question the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Ask questions but not too much, and some of your questions are off limits. In the Christian tribe I grew up with, I was taught to hold tenaciously to certain beliefs, and to not be so open-minded that my brains fall out. We formed our questions rhetorically in order to show that Jesus was the answer to what ailed us. We were taught to regard scientific and skeptical questions as an attack on the Bible and the Christian worldview. When people’s questions made us feel uncomfortable, we prayed that God would reveal to them the truth.
People avoid questions for two reasons. Either they feel assured in their knowledge of something or they are afraid of the answers. Those who are self-assured have stopped growing in either their field or faith: those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought. Those who are afraid of the questions don’t move past a surface and superficial understanding of the matter. What if asking a question is like pulling a string on your favorite sweater? If you follow where your question leads, will the whole garment unravel, leaving you tangled in doubts? Is there a risk? Yes, an answer unearthed to a serious question may change everything.
I have not asked questions for both of these reasons. I can remember telling a Sunday School teacher when I was twelve (the age Jesus was when his parents found him in the temple court asking questions), “Tell me what you were going to teach on today, and I will tell you all about it.” An arrogant retort, but I didn’t leave such self-assured arrogance in adolescence. As an adult, and occasionally still, I offer up pat answers to tough questions, believing I know all there is to know about that (whatever ‘that’ is).
At other stages of my spiritual journey, I thought entertaining certain questions would shake the foundations of my faith. What is the relationship between science and faith? What if evolution is true? What insights can we gain from philosophy? From other faiths? Did Jesus really do that? Who did Jesus save us from? In what way does the cross effect our salvation? Dangerous questions, but I learned to ask them. My faith did not implode, though it certainly changed. I am more confident today that Jesus is the answer to what ails the world. My faith grew through questioning, not avoiding the question.
Not every question deserves an answer. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” has merit, but he didn’t ask it honestly. It was a cynical retort he asked before leaving the room to see who he could pawn Jesus off on. On the other hand, Jesus never turned aside the honest questioner. It is in asking of good questions that we find ourselves on holy ground.