I’ve found myself asking a lot of questions over the last few days and weeks. As we have started looking for jobs and a new place to call home I’ve been asking God and asking myself what I should pursue and what things are important in choosing a new location. I’ve also been asking a lot of questions about God and about faith. My small group discussed hell at our last meeting (just, you know, your typical casual Friday night conversation) and it raised so many of the questions that I’ve been grappling with over the past several years about God’s goodness, his plan for creating the world, and why he allows so much of what happens here on earth. And as if it wasn’t hard enough to be trying to figure out all of my own great questions about life, a large part of my day job lately has been trying to answer other difficult questions on the level of a four-year-old. Here’s a sample of a few conversations I’ve had with Sami over the last several weeks.
Me (reading from the Illustrated Children’s Bible): And on the eighth day they took the baby to be circumcised and they gave him the name Jesus
*side note: why the heck would you feel the need to include that in the Illustrated Children’s Bible?!
Sami: What’s circum-skied?
Me: Ummm….it’s a special sign between God and his people?
Sami: Do I have it?
Me: Ummm…only boys had it (No, I am not even about to get into female circumcision)
Sami: Do they still get circumsigned?
Me: At the hospital when they are born
Sami: Does Dylan have it?
Sami (completely out of the blue): I am so glad that Abraham Lincoln helped the brown people. What did he help them do?
Sami: I would never drive my car to hell! (also out of the blue)
Me: Well, that’s good, but you know, hell’s not really somewhere you can drive to.
Sami: Well, where is it?
Me: It’s kind of like heaven because you can’t go there while you are still alive on earth. Only souls.
Sami: A long time ago they used to put people in boxes when they died and put them in the ground.
Me: Well, they still kind of do that
Sami: Will they do that to me when I die?
Me: Probably. But you won’t need your body anymore because you will be in heaven with Jesus so it won’t matter. (Talking quickly so she doesn’t freak out about being buried)
Sami: I’m just really worried about my friend Olivia
Sami: Because she moved to Bloomington…what if she dies there? She won’t be able to go to heaven.
Me: I’m pretty sure people who live in Bloomington can still go to heaven.
Sami: Why did God make the bad people? (Perhaps there was a context for this one in her mind, but it was very unclear.)
Or, my personal favorite conversation:
Sami: How old are you?
Me: I am about to be 23. (This was right before my birthday a few months ago)
Sami: Maybe when you turn 23 you’ll get taller
Me: I don’t think so. I think I’m pretty much done growing taller.
Sami: That is so sad! Why would God do that?!
(Note: I am 5’3”. I’m no giant, but I’m definitely not the shortest woman she’s ever seen)
Me: I don’t know Sam. Maybe he just likes short ladies.
Most of the time, I just want to look at her and tell her honestly, “I really don’t know! Stop asking me questions!” But instead I do my best to think of an answer that is true to the best of my knowledge and is also on her comprehension level. (A challenge, believe me, because Sam is often not the quickest at connecting A to B.) It can be difficult (although admittedly hilarious) to try to answer these questions, especially since I am not her mother and I don’t want to explain anything to her in a way her parents wouldn’t agree with, but ultimately I think it’s important for her to ask questions. I think it is OK for her to want an explanation for things or to admit that she doesn’t understand something and to ask for help.
A few days ago my husband and I were discussing the failure of the evangelical church to communicate this very thing. I have never been to a church service (particularly the church I grew up in) where anyone expressed that it is ok to question scripture, doctrine, or even God himself. The general view seems to be that questioning is the opposite of faith and a very slippery slope towards losing your faith altogether. As a result the evangelical church has formulated pat answers to complex and difficult questions about faith, God and Christianity. (For example: “Why did God allow the incredible devastation of the earthquake in Japan?” “God is sovereign, so it must be a part of his bigger plan that we can’t see right now.” Technically true, but incredibly unsatisfying.) Frankly, I am of the opinion that if just asking some questions about Christianity were enough to make me lose my faith, perhaps it wasn’t worth having in the first place. On the other hand, choosing to ignore the questions does nothing except create shallow (or blind) faith.
I think asking God questions is as much a part of having a relationship with him as giving thanks and singing praise. I know that I can’t understand everything and there will never be a point at which everything makes sense to me. I am ok with that. But I am hopeful that if I keep asking the questions, God will answer me the way I try to answer Sami—giving me just enough for my comprehension level—but with infinite gentleness, patience, and compassion. “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt. 7:8) But you know what happens to those who don’t ask/seek/knock? They build themselves a little lean-to beside the mansion’s doors and then spend their lives convincing themselves that the house of sticks they built is the real thing.