Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I was brought up short by the following comment by Steve Chalke in an interview with the Wittenburg Door:
Recently, I asked a friend of mine, who was a church leader, why he'd left the
church. And he replied, "I've left the church because I'd rather live with
questions I can't answer than live with questions I can't ask."

Is this really common, discomfort with questions? I have the sense that it is. If this is right, then it seems a pathology which manifests itself in three related ways:

On the one hand, there is the 'inner' hindrance which pulls us back from asking questions: don't ask. I suppose we learn this in all sorts of ways: being told directly, other people's discomfort with questions, our own fears and doubts.

On the other hand, there is also an 'outer' discourse and practice which seeks to provide answers to everything - generally fairly pat, even shallow answers that don't entirely do justice to the depth of the question, and also signal that such questions probably shouldn't even be asked int he first place. I see much of certain sorts of theology intended to do just this.

Either way, the message is clear: don't ask questions - and, perhaps, be suspicious of those who do.

The other side of this coin is the person who cannot commit in faith to God or the church without having everything sorted out, all questions answered, all doubts parried.

The effect of each of these is to close down wonder and imagination, cramping and constricting our relation with God, perhaps even - ultimately - blinding us to God and his kingdom at work in the world.

I have found myself on either one of the three (!) horns of the above dilemma at various times in the past, with the predicted results.

But I have slowly learned to dwell in perplexity.

What I mean by this is to freely and openly entertain questions without needing answers - at least not right now. Questions can open us to new vistas of the Lord, his work, and his glory. They can also, significantly, raise problems. I can't for the life of me offer any kind of explanation for the Shoah or for the Boxing Day Tsunami in Southeast Asia (there are in fact a number of explanations which I reject). In fact, there may be a sense in which offering anything like an 'explanation' might trivialise the suffering involved; it's also true that allowing these to be 'ultimate' in any way makes wickedness (in one case) and tragedy (in another) to be revelatory, which they simply aren't. So what do I do? I dwell in perplexity, holding these before the Lord in prayer. I have some basic convictions about this, which I've just expressed, but I don't have anything like an explanation or understanding. But I do trust that God is larger than it all, that the Lord is ultimate - anything else is only penultimate (at most). And I do have a keen sense that if my unanswered questions stand in the way of my living and responding in Christian love to those around me then they have become much much more than my answering an existential question for myself: they have become a means of evading God, and opting out of the Kingdom.

Or to put it another way, they put me at the centre of it all - which is not a position I should occupy comfortably.

So, as a theologian I have become quite interested in the question of how we build in the capacity for perplexity (on the one hand) and wonder (on the other) to our theologies? Maybe one way to put the question is, how do we do a Job-an theology, rather than a theology of Job's friends?

And what other ways can our churches engender and encourage a profound faith that can also entertain the deep questions of life, and do so for the sake of God?

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Blogger PdB said...

Sometimes I wonder if people don't want to ask questions of other Christians because they don't really want to hear an answer. For many, issuing a challenge is more gratifying than truly processing a solution. It's also intellectually easier.

That's not to say that there aren't any hard questions. I'm only making an observation on those with rebellious hearts who wrestle needlessly when they could instead submit to studying the Scriptures for satisfaction.

Thursday, May 24, 2007 2:35:00 AM  

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