The following article is written to my church family with humility and love. My prayer is that we start asking the right questions in life—the questions that point us to Jesus!
My life has been interesting and filled with diversity, to say the least. I grew up between two religious traditions: Judaism and Christianity. My parents were divorced very early in my life, and I now have four parents with four very different families. My career fields in the past decade have spanned: higher education, nonprofit, government service, political campaigning, business, and one day as a substitute teacher (that is a whole other story). I have walked with senators, slept with the homeless, cried with the mourning, and rejoiced with the happy. I have failed more than I have succeeded. It is through this multi-faceted lens that I approach my faith, the scriptures, and our world. The purpose of this article is to give you a glimpse into my views on faith and society.
Frequently, I am asked a question similar to this: “Do you believe that _____ is a sin?” One can fill in the blank with all sorts of vices, but all too frequently the blank is filled with the vice of others, rather than the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:5). The question is seldom asked without a prejudice associated with it, whereby we seek to justify our actions (Luke 10:29). We all have a lens through which we approach the world, but we all do not acknowledge it; therefore, we cannot challenge it. The Apostle Paul states that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We must understand that we are in the dark before we ever attempt to find the light.
In so many places in society, we have been told: “There are no stupid questions.” As an academic who has lectured in front of countless students over the past decade, I can say with certainty that there are stupid questions. More specifically, there are wrong questions for which we might have the right answers. In supervising doctoral students in writing their dissertations, I spend lots of time challenging their research questions. One may find it interesting that the hardest part for many doctoral students is not writing the dissertation document, but in formulating good research questions. The questions are more important than the answers, which is a difficult concept for many because we want the right answer, not more questions. We want to get an “A” in a course because we got the right answers, not because we left the class with more questions than answers. We are not comfortable with ambiguity and mystery, and yet these are essential elements to faith.Wrong questions emerge from opinions, bias, and ignorance. Jesus frequently dealt with wrong questions and He frustrated the one who asked the question by not giving an answer to their question but instead reframing both the question and the answer. Take a look at the Gospels and you can see why the religious leaders hated Him so much. He disputed their established answers by challenging their questions. He demonstrated that God was more interested in challenging the process than He was with the outcome (Hebrews 5:8; 12:2). After all, Jesus knows the outcome because He is author and finisher of our faith (12:2).
Wrong questions emerge from opinions, bias, and ignorance. Jesus frequently dealt with wrong questions and He frustrated the one who asked the question by not giving an answer to their question but instead reframing both the question and the answer. Take a look at the Gospels and you can see why the religious leaders hated Him so much. He disputed their established answers by challenging their questions. He demonstrated that God was more interested in challenging the process than He was with the outcome (Hebrews 5:8; 12:2). After all, Jesus knows the outcome because He is author and finisher of our faith (12:2).
As a student, frequently I would find myself frustrated with instructors who said that we should not worry about the grade, but focus on the learning. My frustration was rooted in the fact that in this life grades matter! And, if grades did not matter, then why give me a grade at all? The pursuit of a good grade caused both good and bad actions: I studied, and I cheated. After all, I needed a good grade. The focus on the outcome proved detrimental to my learning process.
The biblical law is focused on outcome to demonstrate that we cannot earn a good grade in God’s kingdom. The purpose of the law is described in Romans 5:20: “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” Jesus takes away the grade, not by dismissing it, but by fulfilling it (Matthew 5:17). “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Jesus passed the test, and now we don’t have to worry about the wrong questions, but we can focus on the right answer! Jesus is the right answer! God replaces our performance-shamed based worth, with a grace-based value!
Having received my doctorate in 2013 has freed me from having to take tests and answering the questions that some outside authority has imposed upon me to answer. It has been so freeing because it has provided me with the time to challenge my questions. However, as noted above, I am still frequented with the questions of others, which is a challenge, opportunity, privilege, and burden. People desire the right answers because they are uncomfortable with questions. I understand this desire, and it is found in the pages of scripture. Take for example Exodus 3:13-14: “Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” I can imagine that this was not a fulfilling answer to Moses. The reason that the answer was not fulfilling is that it was a bad question rooted in bad motives—Moses was trying to get out of doing what God wanted Him to do because He was scared. Our motives are the biases that frame our questions. God challenges our motives.
Our love for God, neighbors, and enemies should be the motive that fuels our questions (Matthew 22:40) because LOVE is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Jesus forewarns: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). This passage is a warning to the CHURCH, not the world. The word for love in the Greek used here is AGAPE. According to Gotquestions.org: “The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, for which the Greek word philia is used. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13.” Agape love comes from God and belongs to the children of God, but Jesus tells us that it will grow cold in the latter days. As our love grows cold, so our questions emerge not from a sincere desire to learn but to win by justifying ourselves and attempting to earn a grade in Heaven that we could never earn.
The more I study, the more I am reminded of how much I do not know or could comprehend. As we study His Word (2 Timothy 2:15), we should come to appreciate the incredible beauty of Grace, the foolishness of humankind, and the wisdom of God. I think it is time to put simple questions and arguments aside: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Trust that God is more than capable of handling the arguments of our day.
In the meantime, individually and collectively we should “continue to work out [our own] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). And we must remember this one, unalterable truth: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Drop the stones and run to the cross!