Questions - How Do We Respond to Them?

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So, we’re well into it – the sermon series “A Question Of Faith.” Last week we wondered about “Can you trust the Bible?” This week we’ll consider “Can you be a scientist AND a Christian?”

Thanks to everyone who contributed towards the process of selecting the five questions that have become the sermon series. Want to think with you a bit about questions within the family of faith. How do we feel about them? How do we respond to them?

I can’t tell you how many young adults, as well as older adults, I’ve run across over the years of ministry who have walked away from the church because of the way they were treated when they wanted to ask challenging questions about faith. Something nagged at them – so they thought they’d ask. And they were either shot down in flames, or told they need to shut up and simply believe, or they were ignored.

So they left.

Every time I have such a conversation, I grieve. For it need not be like that!

Drew Dyck wrote an article entitled “The Leavers” in Christianity Today (Nov 2010), and found that the majority of those who leave the church in their 20’s or 30’s will cite, as one of the compelling reasons, the way that church leaders responded to their questions and doubts. I pray that when we face spiritual questions that we will see it not as something threatening, something to be shut down, something that is a sign of weakness – but instead as a sign of honest spiritual seeking.

Nothing wrong with questions. Truly.

The hardest questions, of course, are ones that strike at the core of who we are and what we believe. And sometimes, yes sometimes the questions will be on subjects we’ve not considered ourselves. In which case, please, let’s not see it as a threat. But, instead, an opportunity to wonder together; an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move in the mysterious way that He so beautifully does; an opportunity for new spiritual openness to develop.

So when we encounter someone who is asking we could….
brush off the question.
malign the questioner.

But instead, let’s adopt the posture of 1 Peter 3:15: "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” Gentleness and respect…

It is very respectful to say, “You know, that’s a good question. I’m not really sure about the answer. But let’s dig into it together, and see what we find.” Shutting someone down, or ridiculing them, because I feel personally threatened, or because I don’t have the answer, isn’t gentle or respectful. It’s not the Biblical approach.

Now, it’s not just Christians who struggle with this. Contemporary liberalism struggles, too. There have been a series of articles recently in The Week, an American news journal, talking about the intolerance of once-tolerant liberalism. There are more and more voices trying to publicly silence any who taking differing positions on major issues than the contemporary liberal stance…on whatever that is – gay rights, marriage, abortion, medical care, immigration policy, military intervention in the Middle East… you name it. Nonetheless, just because others do this is no reason we should.

And so I hope and pray that as we continue with our series “A Question Of Faith” that we will be very deliberate in cultivating an attitude that shares the love and grace of Jesus with all those God puts in our path...including those who ask lots of questions.

I pray also that we will be a congregation that is OK with having stuff about which we choose to disagree. And that we will harbour a generous grace that allows people of a variety of opinions to linger within this community. And that we really ARE ok with saying, “I’m not sure.” Can we do that? Even when faced with challenging questions?

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From someone who likes to ask questions, and who tends to see lots of gray rather that black and white, I want to thank you for posting this. I especially love the last paragraph. Jesus has prayed that his followers live together in unity (see John 17). That does not mean that we will all think the same way, or come to the same conclusions. In this world of seemingly greater and greater polarization, and the disrespectful dialog that accompanies that, I believe that we, as the church, have a chance to shine in the darkness by the way we respect and honor one another, even those who think differently from ourselves. Asking questions is an important way to gain understanding; so glad to see it's being encouraged.

I wonder if we come from a tradition of not asking enough questions, and for that reason, sometimes do not know how to respond to questions.  I've often seen questions not as questions, but as someone's challenge to scripture, or challenging God, or challenging authority.  Questions truly asked, vs rhetorical questions asked in anger are different.  

When asked questions, perhaps it would be good for us to ask questions in return?  

But I don't think you should say you are not sure about the answer unless you are really not sure.  Lying about that will not give you your internal credibility in trying to understand another.