Is it ever ok to question God?
In the class I teach at church, we have a phrase called the “church answer.” It’s the typical response that you know you’re supposed to give in church. It usually is something like “pray” or “read your Bible” or “Jesus,” those answers that we are supposed to give to certain questions. It’s usually those things that we all agree are good and fitting. You know, the church answer. But for the idea of questioning God, I’m afraid the common answer, the “church answer,” that people give would be no. We are not to question God. He is the Almighty Creator and questioning God shows lack of faith. And that is not allowed here.
But is that right? Well, we have to parse out what we mean by questioning God. There are times when it is ok to question God or even to have doubts. Having doubts and questions does not mean that you have no faith. In fact, some have described it that you are only able to doubt something once you have faith in it. Doubts are therefore from those who do believe. Otherwise, it is not doubt, it is simply outright rejection. So there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Alister McGrath explains the subtle difference here:
“Unbelief is a decision to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that He stands for. But doubt is something quite different. Doubt arises within the context of faith. It is a wistful longing to be sure of the things in which we trust…Doubt is natural within faith. It comes because of our human weakness and frailty.”
There are many Biblical examples that highlight the difference between this believing doubt and unbelief, questioning God verses rejecting God. One such moment comes from John the Baptist. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist, from prison, sends his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are You the coming one or do we look for another?” Even though John had been preaching in the wilderness about the coming Messiah and the coming judgment, even baptizing Jesus himself, hearing the Father’s voice from above, and witnessing the Spirit descend upon Him, he questioned. He still wanted to verify that Jesus was that One. So how did Jesus respond? Did he scoff and ridicule John? Did he discourage his question? Did he tell him to just have faith? No. Jesus referred him to the proof of who He was in a definitive way for John’s assurance – “the blind have sight, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And then Jesus publicly praised John the Baptist, telling the people that there had been born no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet John had a moment of doubt!
In the Old Testament, when Job was enduring unimaginable suffering, he questioned God with the natural human response of why. Did God get angry with Job? Did God tell him to just have faith? No. God spoke to Job and referred him to the proof of who He was – the powerful, Almighty Creator who made everything in this world. And then God restored to Job all that he had lost and then some. Even though in that moment, Job doubted what God was doing, he did not persist in unbelief. He still had faith in God in the midst of his questions.
Many times believers may find themselves doubting what the Bible says about God or whether the Gospel is real or whether God is really there during a difficult time. And because of the church answer, that we are NOT to question God, it makes these people struggle with much more than the problem right in front of them. It makes them doubt whether they’re really a believer at all. It makes them feel like they are a failure to ever struggle with understanding things about God. It makes them shove that doubt into a dark corner where it can’t be addressed. Or, worse, it makes them take that doubt somewhere else to be answered because the church stood silent on it.
Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.” Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” And Matthew 7:8 says to seek and you will find. God assures us that if we truly seek after Him, that we will find Him. The word seeking implies searching…and questioning, not in an unbelieving way but in a frailty of human understanding way. In the church, we claim to want a seeker’s heart yet we act like only those that have already found all the answers are allowed in. If we truly want people seeking God, then sometimes that requires answering the questions of why. When we don’t allow them to ask why, we encourage them to seek for answers elsewhere.
A few weeks ago, I met a young man who had an incredible story about this very issue. He had dared to ask questions of why to his pastor, but that church leader discouraged him from doing so. He was basically told that people who have faith don’t ask questions and don’t have doubts. With such a dissatisfying response, he chose to find those answers elsewhere, a path that led him through Hinduism, Sikhism, atheism, and agnosticism. By the grace of God, he finally encountered a Christian who allowed those questions to be asked – and was even able to address them in a reasonable way. Through that experience he was brought back into faith in the God of the Bible. It breaks my heart to consider the path this man could have walked through those years had the church welcomed his questions and been open to the challenge of digging deep into the questions of faith. It says that maybe that particular pastor was afraid of doing so to dismiss anyone having questions. But now I must ask the question, “Why?” Why would the church ever be afraid of people’s questions? We know we have truth on our side. God is not afraid of our questions. God and His Word can withstand any question posed so let’s welcome the challenge, and allow those struggles, doubts, and insecurities to be addressed through Him and His Word instead of being answered by the world.
May we be like the father who asked Jesus to heal his son in Mark 9. Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”