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Monday, January 11, 2016

Should We Question God?


Have you ever asked a theological question of a Christian and were told "who are you to question God?" This is all too common today in the Church. I remember experiencing this quite often as a child, teenager, young adult, and even just in the last couple weeks. I have written about the importance of asking questions about our worldview (here and here), but the most recent admonition included a biblical appeal that I believe needs to be addressed.

My frequent readers know that I often post and converse on science/faith issues. I believe that it is important that we defend not only the correct overall worldview, but also the details of the worldview. These details often include our views of origins, and these in-house discussions can get heated. My recent discussion was with a fellow brother-in-Christ. He takes a young-earth creationist position (YEC), and I take an old-earth creationist (OEC) position. In my efforts to understand his view better (and demonstrate a possible inconsistency in his view), I posed several theological challenges (you can find the details in this post: Historical Science, Deception, and Blind Faith), in the form of questions, to his particular position.

Instead of attempting to answer the question, he told me not to question God. He appealed to the story of Job to justify his refusal to provide an answer. He explained that Job asked questions and God refused to answer because God is not responsible to man- man cannot be the judge of God. According to him asking such questions means that, like Job, we are attempting to place ourselves above God as His judge. This seems like a biblical position to hold. After all, it is true that no man stands as a judge of God. Our lack of omniscience prevents us from always knowing how God is justified in His actions. However, due to that lack of omniscience, unless we ask questions, we are not able to understand God more. If my brother is correct in his appeal to Job to deflect my questions, we have a theological contradiction: God wants to be known but then will not answer our questions of Him.

An Important Distinction

It is important to recognize that there are a couple of different types of questions. The first type is questions of accusation. This is the type that would be placing us as judge over someone. Usually, these questions are asked rhetorically; the questioner is not expecting an answer, rather they are trying to make a point. In Job's case, the point was that God was unjust to allow all the calamity that befell him.

However, not all questions are questions of accusation. The second type is a question of reality. By asking this type of question, the questioner is not trying to make a point, but rather trying to gain knowledge about the world or whatever is being questioned. This is the type of question that one asks to know more.

Probably the most common question that actually can take either form is the problem of evil and suffering- the same one Job asked. Many people are authentically searching for reasons for why God would allow certain evils to occur, while others are simply using the evil in the world to judge God (or demonstrate that He does not exist).

Judging the Questioner

While God's answer to Job indicates that Job was asking it in an accusatory manner, we cannot use Job to justify the conclusion that all questions are motivated by the desire to judge God. Just because Job was questioning God in an accusatory manner does not mean that every person asks questions similarly (though many do). Many questions are posed in an effort to know God more. Its not that "God has a lot of explaining to do;" its that "we have a lot of understanding to do." Asking questions is key to understanding God, understanding our relationship to Him, and understanding what He is accomplishing through us.

That second point is pivotal. In the conversation that I encountered the admonition, we were discussing theology. We each took different positions, and the question I posed showed what I saw as a logical inconsistency between the other person's view and God's perfect moral nature. If the other person's view was true, then there would be a way for my question to be answered consistently. I wanted to know, for if my view is wrong, I want to change it; and if the other person has a consistent view, I certainly do not want to go around saying that I have rejected it because of some misunderstanding that I have about the view (strawman). My question was not a question to judge God, it was a question to know more about their view and, if I finally agreed with their view, God.

The Dangers

It is often that when someone is seeking God, that they have questions about who God is or why He has done a certain thing in history. These are common for someone who's heart is opening to God. It is important that we not refuse to answer a question because we have misidentified its motivation. If we do so, then we are guilty of not "giving a reason for the hope that we have" (1 Peter 3:15a). Further, we also tend to take a very polemic stance, one of "who are YOU to judge God?" as if it were "who are YOU to judge ME?" which stands in direct violation of the second part of that scripture: "but do so with gentleness and respect."

Not only do we violate God's command, but if we assume that any time a question is posed of God that the motive is to judge God, then we are essentially affirming that God does not desire to be known, For if questions of God cannot ever be honest questions about who He is, what our relationship to Him is, or what He is accomplishing, and God's answer is always "who are YOU to question the Almighty," then the desire for God to be known by humans is not there. On this view, the feeling is mutual between God and humans. But contrary to that view, the desire to be known is essential to the personal nature of God. If we always make the incorrect judgment of the questioner, then we have denied the personal nature of God and the ability of man to know anything about God. If God has no desire to be known and man has no desire to know God, then there is no reason to believe the Bible is a revelation from God to us.

No True Christian

No Christian should ever find themselves in the position of denying any of those. For if they do, then they deny their own faith. For if God cannot be known, does not desire to be known, would not reveal Himself to us, and thus has not revealed Himself to us, then Jesus was not God, and the rest falls apart from there.

Questioning Views

Interestingly enough, honest questions of reality may seem like questions of accusation. There are a few things that can cause this perception. Sometimes it is that the questioner simply struggles to understand the nuances of the view but is trying to understand them. In this case, we need to take the time to help them understand- patiently work through their questions with them. The other is that WE actually have an incorrect view of God (theology). Recognizing that we have incorrectly understood God is not easy, especially if we confuse our interpretation of God's Word with God's Word itself (see "Man's Fallible Ideas Vs. God's Word"). In the first case, it is the questioner who is asking questions of reality; in the second case, it is we who should be asking the questions of reality. Neither the questioner nor the one being questioned is omniscient, and both need to be humble in the pursuit of truth.

Three Beneficiaries

For the honest unbeliever who's questioning, stumbling blocks can be removed between them and their acceptance of Christ. For the honest believer who's questioning, their understanding of God can increase, and they can then worship God more "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). For the believer being questioned (regardless of the status of their questioner) who has a wrong view and are willing to not judge the questioner but rather judge themselves, THEY stand to gain more accurate knowledge of God and can also worship God more "in spirit and in truth."

Because of the dangers and the benefits, I urge every Christian reading this post to think before they accuse anyone of judging God with their questions. Should we question God? Absolutely! Honest questions of reality can have profound effects on our relationship with our Creator who DOES desire to be known. Let's not stand in the way of our own spiritual growth or anyone else's.

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