Questioning God

Advent is a season of questions. Which is good, because I’ve got plenty. Have you?

Sometimes people act like you can’t ask questions in church life, as though you just have to ‘have faith’, which is true but not in the way that people who usually say it mean. I think they act like this because well-meaning people have told them so.

They shouldn’t have told you that, friends.

Jesus loves your questions. He really does. We need to grow churches where people can ask their genuine questions—not their gotchas or the ones designed to make them look like they’ve got it all worked out, but their genuine heart-felt questions that burden and burn their soul.

We need to grow churches that help them look for answers—there are answers—but that don’t rush to the pat and simple answer that papers over our nervousness that they asked the question at all. We need to be churches, and Christians, who wrestle with the difficult questions. We have to allow ourselves to feel the force of them, the strangeness of them, without rushing away from the pain.

And then lovingly shepherd questioning people to the Answer to all our longings: Jesus the Christ, in whom answers can be found—though occasionally to different questions than the ones we first asked.

There is such a thing as a bad question, there really is. Questioners do have to be willing to be told, “I’ve got a better question for you,” but we all need to get more comfortable with the difficulties and questions people in our congregations have but often don’t voice.

People who say this sort of stuff often want to ask questions so they can swiftly deny a bunch of key tenets of the faith. That isn’t what this is, I love the Bible—it is the words of life, I love Jesus—he is my King, and I love the orthodox faith represented in the creeds, and the Fathers, and the Medieval theologians, and the Reformers, and all the saints from the Apostles to those living today. The tradition has held the answers to some of my difficult questions, and others won’t be answered I suspect until I behold the face of Almighty God and he wipes away my tears with his fingers.

But this is true: Jesus loves your questions. He loves them because he loves you.

Have you read Habakkuk? This book that starts with the prophet’s complaints against God, and God’s responses, before ending in a Psalm of praise. Have you read the Psalms, especially the third book? These songs that wrestle with pain and the unfulfilled promises of the living God. Have you read Job? These vibrant and vital questions of suffering that strikes the righteous, and the wicked who prosper. Their answer isn’t as neat and tidy as we would like, and it isn’t the answers I was taught Christians put to the ‘Problem of Evil’ when I studied Philosophy.

Honestly the answer isn’t even for today, it’s Advent today, a season of questions. The answer comes at Christmas.

As we embrace the season of questions, before an inexplicable answer comes in God made man, we need to learn to voice our deepest complaints to the Lord himself. The Bible is full of people doing so, it is not impious or ungrateful or insufficiently reverential, tell him how you feel.

When you do this you will be met by a tender God. We may also encounter rebuke like Habakkuk did, like Job did, if our hearts require it. Ok, that’s not fun, but certainly needed. Even then, they are not rebuked for asking questions.

So often I use the truth to damp down my questions. In Habakkuk chapter 1, Habakkuk uses the truth to amp up his questions. He starts with the truth about God and uses that as the basis of his complaint. His questioning, his wrestling, emerges from his theological commitments.

Ask questions of God this Advent. Don’t go the easy root of fitting the theology to the situation, allow the dissonance of the world’s pain and your own struggle to give rise to questions. Sit with the struggle at the bottom of the night.

As Kosuke Koyama says, “Jesus is not a quick answer”. A gestating baby takes nine months to be born—the Messiah waited from the garden until 4BC to come and rescue his people. Even then he arrives as a tiny baby, unable to do anything much, and it’s not until 33AD, 37 years later, that the great act of rescue happens as Life dies to kill death, and then walks out of the grave a triumphant king.

As we sit with Advent we learn Advent truths. Like ‘life is full of disappointment’. Not the sort of Christmas cheer most of us are looking for. Truths like ‘terrible and cruel things happen every day’. Advent feels like Ecclesiastes.

And like Ecclesiastes, where the preacher is insistent that life under the Sun is a vapour, we agree. Life under the Sun is but breath, passing and riddled with disappointment. So, we look forward to the day the Sun is torn away and we live not under the Sun but under the light of the Lamb. Which by the way, is the preacher’s point.

Life is disappointing. So what’s the answer? God crashing into history, once, 2000 years ago, to turn everything on its head and start a new creation.

But life is still disappointing, so what’s the answer? This is why Advent does not primarily look to Christmas but to Christ’s second adventus, his ‘arrival’. What we call the second coming, the return. The second time that God crashes into history, this time to roll it up like a scroll. This time on a white horse splattered in blood to wage a very one-sided war against injustice, evil, pain, sadness and death. A war he won on the cross.

So, friends, ask your questions. Don’t go for the easy move and answer them in two paragraphs. Sit with the struggle. Eventually—I testify from hard won assurance—the resurrection will bloom as the ending of all of our stories and God will gift you that most mysterious and painful of gifts: hope.

For now, keep asking.

Photo by Ilkka Kärkkäinen on Unsplash

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