The starting point and destination of all good questions
By Mike Augsburger
I have always enjoyed sharing my faith with unbelievers. It’s fascinating to hear people’s thoughts or objections to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel. Years ago, I remember one young lady saying, “Well, I believe in science.” I replied that I also believe in science, but science doesn’t explain where everything came from. She said, “Well, strange things can happen if you give it billions of years.” I walked away from that conversation realizing that people often hold beliefs devoid of factual evidence.
In the last 20 years, people have continued to doubt the Scriptures, but today, the idea of questioning everything seems to be a prized attribute. Schools teach children to question absolute truth, parents, upbringing, social norms and even their own gender identities. There’s nothing wrong with having an inquiring mind; however, questioning without a starting point and a destination is as useless as bailing water from a perforated boat.
The starting point: knowledge
My 5-year-old daughter, Zoey, loves to ask questions. Some of her questions are insightful, and others are inane. She’ll ask something like, “Why do we need fingers?” My wife and I will stare at each other, puzzled at how to even begin answering the question. Other times, she’ll ask good questions like, “How did the doctor get me out of your tummy, mom?” Yes, it is a good question, but also a little scary to answer!
You see, good questions begin with some basis of knowledge. How can you ask a question about something if you know nothing about it? When Zoey asks her question about the doctor delivering babies, she’s observing that a baby begins inside of a mommy and ends up outside of a mommy. From that basis of knowledge, she realizes she’s missing a piece of the equation. Knowledge – even basic knowledge – breeds good questions.
We just wrapped up a sermon series in the book of Habakkuk. The book begins with questions about God’s awareness of current events. Habakkuk wonders if God is keeping up with the times. He also questions the ethics of God’s administration. Some might read this and feel emboldened to ask similar questions: “I don’t think God knows what he’s doing! How can he allow such suffering on the planet!” Those sound like Habakkuk-esque questions – but they are not.
The reason Habakkuk asked his particular questions is because he was operating on the basis of knowledge. Habakkuk knew from the Scriptures that God promised to deal with the sin of his people. He also knew from the Scriptures that God would preserve his people forever. Based on that knowledge he could ask, “God, why aren’t you dealing with the sin of your people. And, God, if you annihilate us, you’ll be unethical by breaking your promises.”
The problem with the way people question God today is it’s based on very little knowledge. There’s an epidemic, it seems, of people walking away from the faith. Unfortunately, some knowledgeable Christian leaders have walked away, but the lion’s share are people raised in church who turn their backs on their upbringing.
Those defecting from the faith are asking questions relating to God’s justice, or the validity of the Bible, or the historicity of the faith. However, most defect because biblical lifestyle ethics conflict with modern notions of freedom. People question God’s standards without really understanding the truth behind the standards, thus, we have questions without knowledge.
Why has this happened? I would trace it back to failure in our homes and churches to really teach the truth of God’s Word. For the past 30 years, churches have sought to entertain people in order to hold a crowd. Entertainment won’t sustain faith, and we’re seeing the fallout.
The destination: truth
Good questions begin with a basis of knowledge, and then should lead to greater knowledge and learning. Habakkuk asked great questions based upon his understanding of God and God’s covenants. God answered him in a couple of visions and confirmed that he indeed would deal with Israel’s sin. He would also deal with the Babylonians in time and would preserve his own people.
After God revealed this truth to Habakkuk, he humbly submitted to what he heard. In fact, in Habakkuk 2:20 God says,
“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let the whole earth be silent in his presence.”
In other words, questions should lead to truth, and truth should lead to the silencing of questions. Habakkuk’s questions found the destination of truth. At the end of the book, Habakkuk’s faith was strengthened in the knowledge of truth. The proof is in the last two verses where he says,
“Yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! The Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights.”
He knew this before he asked the questions and knew it even to a greater degree after asking the questions. When done properly, questions should strengthen faith, not undermine it.
People today think it’s virtuous to ask questions. However, there’s no virtue in asking questions that do not lead to truth. Asking questions with a doubting spirit in order to feed more doubt will inevitably lead to deconstruction.
In our personal lives, we need a steady diet of Scriptural truth and facts. Read copious amounts of the Bible. You might wonder, “This is not applicable at all!” True. You may not always find easy application in every text of Scripture. However, over time you develop a view of God, his character, and his works. A foundation of truth provides a basis for good questions, and good questions lead to exploring more truth.
If you are a parent, begin at an early age to teach truth about God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Focus on Scripture memorization and the accumulation of facts. Give your kids a working knowledge of the Scriptures so that they can ask knowledge-based questions which build up faith.
God loves when we ask questions with the right heart and a spirit of humble submission to him. He won’t answer us the way he answered Habakkuk, but he’s given us his Word which is sufficient to answer even our toughest questions.