Monday, June 20, 2011

It's Not the Answers, but the Questions that Matter

In the little book of Habakkuk, the prophet faces a crisis of faith. It was a common belief among Habakkuk’s people that plagues and invasions from other nations were indicative of God’s displeasure or judgment. Undoubtedly, Habakkuk shares this belief to some degree. Most of us share the beliefs we are socialized into through family and culture.

The Babylonians are coming. They are a ruthless and violent people who worship might and power. They will sweep down and set their hooks and nets into the land and gather the people of Israel in like a fisherman gathers in his catch, to be used and disposed of at will (1:5–17).

The prophet cries to God, “We cry for help but you do not listen. We cry out for deliverance but you do not save. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted” (1:2–4).

It’s a question of justice. How can it be, cries the prophet, that God would use a more wicked people to punish a less wicked people? Israel wasn’t innocent, but they were not as vicious and ruthless as the Chaldeans. This baffles the prophet and sends him into a quandary. The old theology, the standard answer no longer works.

I heard about a man traveling on a dinner flight who found an enormous roach on his salad. Back home he wrote a harsh letter to the president of the airline. A few days later he received a letter from the president explaining how that particular airplane had been fumigated and all the seats and upholstery stripped. There was even the suggestion that the aircraft would be taken out of service. The man was very impressed until he noticed that quite by accident the letter he had written had stuck to the president’s letter. On his letter there was a note that said, “Reply with the regular roach letter.”

For more and more Christians today, especially critically-thinking Christians, the old answers, the generic responses are no longer sufficient.

Unfortunately, there are still many Christian communities that try to smother the questions. Questions arise that either you are not encouraged to ask or perhaps not even allowed to ask. And when you do ask them, you are given short, simplistic explanations or the questions are dismissed or ignored as insignificant. Or even worse, you are condemned for your lack of faith or treated as a heretic for asking the questions.

For many Christians in faith communities across the country there are teachings that dare not be challenged and questions that dare not be asked. The old answers are supposed to be true because someone in authority says they are true. The answers usually are given as: “This is what the Bible says” or “God says . . .”

If the answers come from people we love and care about, like our parents, family members, faith community and friends in our social network, we may live with those answers for a long time, until they no longer work or make sense to us anymore.

Sometimes it takes an experience of unusual suffering or loss to jar us awake—the death of a love one, the breakup of a marriage, the loss of employment, a debilitating disease. Or it may come about, as it did in my faith journey, through a growing feeling or gnawing sense that the old answers are simply not true; that the “old time religion” is not spiritually healthy or personally transforming.

At some point in our faith journey it is necessary to find our beliefs/theology lacking. Otherwise, we would never question and grow. Healthy, holistic, and transformative spirituality is not about having the right answers; it’s about asking the right questions—better questions.


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