A Safe Place to Ask Questions

Twice.  Just twice.  That’s how many times I was yelled at by teachers during my school days.  My first encounter with teacher rage was caused by my ability to tune everything out once I become engrossed in a book.  Or anything else for that matter.  I frequently have trouble focusing, but when my mind latches on to something it becomes like a fat kid with a box full of Twinkies; utterly enraptured. 

Mrs. Acuff, my third-grade teacher, let us have free-time to read or draw once we finished classroom assignments.  My artwork usually looked like that of a spastic monkey, so I opted to read.  Things were going swimmingly on this particular day, until my teacher instructed the class that it was time to move on to something else.  Being too engrossed in the life Superfudge, Sheila the Great, or another one of Judy Blume’s characters caused me not to recognize this.  While the rest of the class gave their attention to Mrs. Acuff, my nose stayed buried in a book.

She called my name three or four times to no avail. You would think that the kids sitting near me would have tried to draw me out of my word-induced stupor.  They didn’t, though, the little punks.  Finally, Mrs. Acuff yelled–“MATTHEW!”  This struck a chord in my brain.  It caused me, as painfully shy and fearful of authority as I was, to lift my head and return fire by yelling, “WHAT!”  The other kids gasped and I realized what I had done.  Mrs. Acuff realized it, too, charging over to my desk to adinister a tongue-lashing.  It was terrible.  The second time I was yelled at by a teacher was worse.

I was a Junior in high school this time taking a Spanish class; Mrs. Lanigan, or Senora Lanigan, was my teacher.  I liked her and the class, but I didn’t like what happened when a group of German students came one day to talk about Germany and answer questions.  We were told the day before that this was going to happen so that we could think about what we would like to ask.  We were told that no topic would be off-limits.  This turned out to be false.

After the German students talked about their culture and some of what they liked about the U.S., they asked if we had any questions.  I listened as they were asked questions about the drinking age in Germany, how fast you could drive on the roads in Germany, what fast food restaurants were like in Germany.  Softball questions, questions that did not interest me in the least.  I had a real question, a question that might be a little harder to answer.  My hand was finally noticed.  Here is what I said:

“In America, Hitler is depicted as a villain.  How is he viewed by most people in Germany?”

All of the talk about no topic being off-limits vanished as my teacher instructed the German students to disregard my question and rushed over to me with a look of horror.  I do not remember what she said to me or how loud she said it.  I do remember that I felt sufficiently scolded and ashamed afterward.  I didn’t mean any disrespect; my question was an honest one.  I was simply curious and was chastised for it.  I felt awful. 

Feeling a sense of condemnation after asking a sincere question is bad.  Having the same thing happen in the Church is worse.  I know, I have witnessed it.

You’re sitting in a group of Christians and a doubt-filled question begins to burn deep in your chest.  You believe that this is a safe place to expose your soul.  The question comes out of your mouth and you are hopeful for  kind and gracious answers.  Instead your question is met with hostility.  Your salvation is questioned along with your intelligence.  You are told that if you pray about it, the answers will come. 

You feel attacked and you learn never that the Church is not a safe place to ask questions.

Is this a real scenario?  Unfortunately it is.  How can this be changed?  One interaction at a time.  By thoughtful Christians caring more about the person asking the question than about their own agenda in answering it.  By each of  us loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, just like He instructed us to do. By each of us realizing that people who ask questions aren’t our enemies.  By each of us recognizing that questions can lead to discussions which can lead to better relationships with believers and unbelievers alike. 

I was yelled at for asking an honest question.  May this never be so in the Church.  Not on our watch.

(Have you ever felt attacked after asking a question?  How can we better respond to those with doubts?)

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26 thoughts on “A Safe Place to Ask Questions

  1. Yes, I’ve felt attacked before… and it’s caused me to not want to share (again with that person) later on. It strains the relationship and does not encourage a reciprocal transparency.

    I think you’re right–one way to respond kindly, is to respond kindly one response at a time.

    Thanks for your post!

  2. I think it’s because of fear that the church may not have the right answers. And that’s the problem. The church doesn’t have to have the right answers all of the time. The church has the most important question answered, and is that of salvation.

    Everyone has the right to ask questions, Christ even encouraged it. But I’ve seen the same hostility even in our churches.

    Here’s the kicker: Most people who are hostile to these questions, are usually having some questions themselves and are ashamed of asking them. This shame causes them to respond this way, which screams out “pharisee”. At least to me it does.

  3. It can certainly be tough for someone who has really legitimate questions to ask that the bible doesn’t have easy to reference answers for. That’s when the “Pray about it and God will give you the answer.” solution becomes simply useless.

    As christians, we should be asking these types of questions and we should be constantly seeking the answers to tough questions. We have an obligation to ourselves to do so.

    I think often people are afraid to ask tough questions of the Bible and God because they fear that by doing so, they are questioning God and thus, are denying his power. Or denying him. They fear eternal punishment, and so they try their best to leave well enough alone.

    However, if no one of faith ever questioned what they read, we would still believe that the Sun revolved around the Earth because Joshua 10:13 tells us that it is so. And we would still be burning the Heretics who claim otherwise.

    • I read somewhere that a faith that hasn’t been tested can’t be trusted. I agree with this and with the assertion that we should be diligent in seeking answers to tough questions. Thanks for the comment.

    • @Matt We should point out that Joshua 10:13 in no place states that the sun revolves around the Earth. It was church interpretation that was questioned, not the Scripture. Thoes who challenged the earth-centric view of the solar system did not question that Joshua saw the sun motionless in the sky. They questioned a flawed astronomical model that had been derived from it.

      It’s important that we separate questioning the truth and accuracy of the Bible itself from questioning our understanding of it. If the Bible appears to contradict itself, then we know our understanding of one or both passages is wrong, because the God who said not one jot or tittle would pass is certainly able and committed to keeping His Scripture accurate and consistent. So we have to examine other passages to find where our flawed understanding is. That’s a very legitimate questioning. Likewise, when the Bible seems to contradict something someone else says, whether a famous scientist or a beloved grandmother, then either we’ve misunderstood one or the other, or the someone else is wrong. This also is a legitimate form of inquiry, to determine if we’ve misunderstood, or if the other person is incorrect, because we want to know and follow truth.

      Where we fall into trouble is when we accept the idea that the Bible itself might be in error. That way lies great peril, because we then define humanity’s limited knowledge and reason as superior to God’s Word for fathoming truth, and thus superior to God. We must always say with the Scripture “let God be true and all men liars” if we find that we understand what man and Bible are saying and that they definitely disagree.

      However, even for the person who does question the accuracy of the Bible, our response needs to be tempered by the recognition that God loves that person and calls us to demonstrate His love towards them. There are many ways to refuse to accept a person’s error without losing sight of God’s love for them.

  4. >>(Have you ever felt attacked after asking a question? How can we better respond to those with doubts?)

    Yep. The first time I wondered aloud, (during a service at a mainline denominational church), why didn’t people raise their hands during worship.

    Whoops.

    Shoulda kept that one to myself. But I was a newborn Christian then, and simply didn’t understand church politics, or other such bondages.

    Needless to say, I didn’t return there.

      • No, no I didn’t. But that would have made for a great follow-up question.

        My naivete about other church “protocols” was shattered with each visit I made to mainline churches. I thought everyone raised their hands in worship. I thought everyone would speak back to the pastor when he preached. I thought everyone was unafraid of The Holy Spirit.

        I quickly learned otherwise. *sigh*

        • Every group of believers/every local congregation is different. Finding the one where you can minister and be ministered to is important. As is finding one where the Gospel is both proclaimed and lived out amongst the people.

          • True enough. This is why I have walked away from church as a necessity and have instead found fellowship apart from the stained glass walls of man’s making. I have all the benefits and none of the drama.

            • One of the reasons I think that being involved in a local congregation is a good thing is that it forces you to come into contact with people not like you (different age, mindset, political beliefs, issues) which in turn causes you to put grace into action. Otherwise I am afraid that we would get into groups of people just like us and not have as much need to overlook each other’s problems.

              • Seek,

                You said:
                “Otherwise I am afraid that we would get into groups of people just like us and not have as much need to overlook each other’s problems.”

                Isn’t that why we have denominations? Baptists like Baptist churches and Baptist doctrine. Methodists like Methodist church and Methodist doctrines. Etc, etc. This is more of getting into groups of people that are just like you. In denominations it is not necessary to “overlook each other’s problems” because there is a church vision statement or statement of beliefs that is used to handle said problems. That’s why there are denominations.

                Thanks for listening.

                • I see your point. What I mean by that is that in churches, even though we agree on the basics, I am confronted with people who at times can grate on my nerves and even make me angry. Being in a committed to the church and to them I have to put what the Bible tells me about forgiveness, love, and gentleness into practice. If I hole myself up in my house and worship alone, I do not have to do this–at least not as much. The aggravations of church actually have helped me to become more like Christ because the ideas become experiences.

  5. MATT! You did it AGAIN! You have this keen sense of timing, though we live two totally separate lives and are 3 hours apart. Weird how that works–almost like you’ve got outside help or something… 😉

    This scenario happened a couple of weeks ago at our church. The church Jonathan and I attend now is totally different from the one that I knew all my life, not in a foundational sense, but as far as size, worship style, congregation, etc. Not that there ever was anything wrong with the “old” church, but at present time, this fits our beliefs, styles, and needs better. It is “New Vision Baptist Church” in Murfreesboro, and is a “southern Baptist” church, though not everyone in our congregation professes to be “Southern Baptist” and *Gasp*–that’s OKAY! So anyways, our pastor just finished up a sermon series called “Hello, my name is Satan”. Week 1–the history and description of Satan. Week 2–the deceptions/ways of Satan. Week 3–The spiritual battle we are in. Week 4–what weeks 1, 2, & 3 mean to Christians today. There are four services, 8:45, 10:00, 11:15, and 6:30, and all of them are the same. However, after the evening service, attendees are invited to participate in a Q&A session with pastor Brady. So in week 2, Jonathan and I had some “visitors” with us, someone who is very used to a certain style of worship. During the Q&A, a few people asked some “strange” questions that offended our guest. The questions were honest questions, and Brady answered each of them in a Biblical, truthful way as best he could. But our guest sat fuming the entire time and afterwards gave us an earful on how stupid the questions were and even the people were, how Brady should have just overlooked them and kept going, and how apparently these people weren’t Christians and did they not ever even open a Bible. Jonathan and I listened quietly and stated that isn’t that why churches exist anyway, to get “unchurched” people in the doors and closer to Christ. I told her that the church exists to answer the questions people have and to lead them in the correct path, not to rebuke them for asking a “wrong” question. Otherwise, we would just be a bunch of “Christian” people sitting around sipping coffee and waiting to die and go to Heaven, while the rest of the world dies and goes to Hell. I told her that I would rather be in a church full of “sinners” than be in one where everyone is already saved–and she just about had a cardiac arrest. I suppose it’s just a difference in beliefs, values, “open-mindedness”, generational, whatever, but it bothered me and this blog post hit it right on the head. As usual. Nice job. 🙂

    Oh, and in case you’re curious, here’s our church’s URL: http://www.newvisiononline.net

    • Wow–very interesting. There are still a lot of people who think that church should be a particular way and that questions aren’t appropriate (even though this is never found in the Bible). Good job of expressing your beliefs in a loving manner.

    • I absolutely agree with you in applauding the pastor for taking questions and handling them with his best effort to give them sound Biblical doctrine. I think that’s neat that the pastor has a Q&A period after services. And there’s even Biblical precedent, really. Jesus of course gave many sermons, but we also have several occasions where he fielded questions from the audience. Some were honest, some were even malicious, but he answered each with Divine wisdom. And it fits, really, as He was a rabbi. It is the pattern even today among the Jews for the followers of the rabbi to ask questions so that He may help them understand.

      There is one line that I would take issue with in your statements, not in your intent but with the specific statement. I agree fully with your defense of the pastor, it’s just the one phrase that caught my attention. You stated “isn’t that why churches exist anyway, to get ‘unchurched’ people in the doors and closer to Christ.” I spent a few years in a “seeker church”, and it prompted some searching for myself and my family, from which I drew the conclusion that the answer is no. The church, meaning the gatherings of believers, was created for Christians, as a place for them to be taught in the Scriptures and built up by communion with other believers. Christians themselves are supposed to be the ones bringing others closer to Christ; the church is supposed to be focused on making Christians more Christlike. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to invite your friends to church by any means or that church services shouldn’t have an invitation to salvation; I definitely encourage both. But it does mean that the *focus* of the church entity should be on building up mature believers in the faith and equipping them to live and witness in a world that lives very differently than God expects of us. Building up believers is the internal mission of the church; saving the unsaved is the external mission of the church. Where I have seen a problem firsthand is when the church begins to see drawing in the unsaved as its internal mission. When that happens, you begin to see a movement to make the church service “palatable” to unbelievers, and “not offend them”. And the end result tends to be a service that not only does not prick the hearts of unbelievers with their need for Christ (because that might make them uncomfortable and drive them out), but also spiritually starves the believers because it can’t deal with deep or tough issues for fear of making the unbelievers uncomfortable.

      • This looks to be an issue of “both/and” or “either/or.” The church is a place where both Christians are built up in the faith and non-Christians can be drawn closer to Christ. We do not need to make ourselves one-function entities. I agree that we should not become so seeker friendly as to strip Christianity of those things which might offend. Let the Bible say what it says and proclaim the truth with clarity.

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