Can I Ask You a Question?

Over 7 years of working with young people in the church, I’ve spoken to several who’ve struggled with their faith. Most of the time, they’re making that difficult transition from the belief of their childhood to a more adult version of that faith. For many people at this stage of life, what they’ve been doing just doesn’t work for them anymore.  They’re reading things in the Bible that don’t jibe with the things they’re learning in school, they don’t care for the hypocrisy he see in the church, the hard line some people take toward other religions leaves them cold and worship doesn’t engage them anymore, if it ever did to begin with. More than one has questioned their commitment to a faith if these things are a part of it. All of this, I think, is pretty standard for someone in their late teens and early twenties. It’s all so black and white at that age. They haven’t been an adult long enough to see the shades of gray, nor have they started down that slippery slope of compromise. They passionately believe things should be a certain way; if they aren’t, they want to know why isn’t someone doing something about it? Remember when we used to feel that way?

Every so often though, their drive to make things right brings up questions that butt up against conventional wisdom; usually in the person of an older adult, like a parent or some other authority figure. Now, if it’s handled right, the wisdom and experience of the older person leavens the raw energy of the younger and something really special results. If not, a huge rift can occur, one that takes years to repair. The second happens all to often in life and, even though it should be, the church is no different; hell, it’s worse than a lot of secular institutions when it comes to questions.  A good example is the way some adults react when young people ask questions about faith. These folks hear something that, because the interrogator hasn’t learned to ask challenging questions without them sounding like an attack, sounds like an assault on everything they believe. Of course, they fire back and an argument ensues, which is totally counterproductive. Sometimes, the elders hang in there and stick around for the next question.  But, not always; certainly not often enough.

As the title lets on, this ramble is really about questions. Easy ones and hard ones.  Ones that make us uncomfortable, that challenge everything we believe.  There are many ways to deal with questions. Some folks just slam the door, saying everything that needs to be said has been said and we should accept it. Yeah, couple of problems with that. First, questions are central to the Gospel.  Jesus and the disciples asked questions of each other constantly; they knew questions were how you learn. That brings me to the second problem: if no one can ask questions, if everything has truly been said, then there’s nothing else to learn and we’re practicing a dead faith.

So, how do we deal with questions? I can only tell you how I do it. First of all, encourage questions. Don’t just be open to them, ask for them. Second, no bullshit; if you’re asked a question you can’t answer, just admit you don’t know and look for the answer together. There’s no rule that says you have to know it all. In fact, you can’t, so don’t even try. But, never, ever, try to bullshit your way out; everyone will know what you’re doing and you’ll look like an ass. Third, if someone cares enough to ask a question in the first place, make ’em work for the answer; shrugs, nods and grunts won’t cut it. Finally, the next time you hear a question that gets your hackles up, stop and think; it could open up something new and special for you, too