I’m awfully thankful for the power of gravity. How fortunate for me that I can walk outside without fear that the soles of my shoes may abandon solid ground, launching me heavenward, with nothing to keep me from floating into the upper atmosphere, where I ‘d promptly suffocate or freeze to death. How wonderful that the Moon continues its faithful revolutions around the Earth, giving us those brilliant oceanic tides, and even more wonderful is the manner in which this beautiful green planet maintains a perfect gravitational attachment to the Sun, allowing us temperatures suitable for our survival and the growth of food so we and all animal kind may live.
What do you think might happen if I came to question the influence of gravity? Suppose I determined to become a gravity skeptic, and I challenged the prevailing thought that there exists this universal force, continually pulling smaller mass toward larger? I could propose another theory to explain the fixedness of everything to the surface of the Earth. I may say that you and I are surrounded by invisible forcefields, which keep us from spiraling into space, and I may set about proving my theory by figuring ways to thwart my own invisible bubble, or at least to make it visible. Were I to become a bonafide gravity skeptic, I daresay I could expect that gravity would remain constant in its power over me and all other matter. Though I might spend a lifetime debating its existence, gravity would care not at all about my arguments against it. I can expect gravity would be faithful to hold me to the ground.
Fortunately, I have little doubt in the law of gravity and will not, therefore, waste time challenging its existence. Gravity may be one of the few unseen forces I have relative certainty over. So what of other unseen forces? Should I question them? What of God? Is it permissable for me to question beliefs about God? (Relax, Mom. I’m going somewhere with this.)
I recall a conversation I observed many years ago, when I was in high school youth group. The topic was Noah and the flood. A friend of mine in the group shared that she often struggled with the following passage from Genesis:
“The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”
(Genesis 6:6 NASB)
This passage is a challenge for many of us, but unlike my friend, few of us have the audacity to voice our confusion in a church meeting. Let me get this straight – THE (all knowing) God, Creator of all, was sorry? Actually, that idea isn’t necessarily difficult to digest in itself; the difficulty comes when we read about the aftermath of the Almighty’s sorrow:
The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7 NASB)
I’m always struck by the matter of fact way the Bible states such ideas. This is God, forecasting his intent to kill nearly all life on the planet, and the passage reads as though he were simply erasing a sketch from his galactic whiteboard.
“Well, THIS didn’t turn out the way I wanted! Guess I’ll start over!” swipe swipe swipe…
Crap, God. Destroy the whole planet because you’re sorry? That’s one hell of an “oops”.
This was the struggle of my friend from youth group. We’re taught that God is love, so we’re left to conclude that God loved all those people he chose to “blot out”, but this is even more confounding when you consider that we’re taught God knows all. He knew in advance all the horrible things mankind would do, but he made us anyway, and then he was sorry? This is tough to chew on. This is worth a discussion.
The discussion never happened – not that morning in high school youth group, anyway. The leader implored my friend not to ask such questions. Such questions are “dangerous”, he said. At most, I might remember three or four teachings from my youth group days, but I’ve always remembered that one.
Some questions are dangerous, so don’t ask them.
I wish I’d been brave then, like my friend. I should have spoken up and admitted that I had the same questions. If enough of us had done as she did, maybe the youth leader would have yielded. Maybe he would have confessed some confusion of his own. Maybe I could have settled some issues in my heart then and there, rather than concealing them in an iron box labeled “don’t ask” and burying them, allowing them to fester for decades.
Why do so many of us in Christendom fear asking certain questions? What are we worried might happen? If I challenge an idea about God which ultimately turns out to be true, does my challenge make God any less true? It seems to me that the truth about God is like any other truth in the universe: it cannot be disturbed. Just as gravity remains unphased, even should I question its validity, so the same must be said of the transcendent truth of God. If God is Love (and I still believe he is) then I must believe his love for me remains in spite of all my questions. In fact, I imagine he finds my questions rather endearing.
In Christian circles, to be an asker of questions can easily result in being lonely. The human brain clings to certainty, and nowhere is this more evidenced than in popular Christian churches. “You should know that you know that you know” is a statement of certainty – one I’ve heard orated from the pulpit, and many times I’ve nodded in agreement. If you’ve been to church often enough, so likely have you. Let’s back up a moment and analyze that phrase.
The writers of scripture put a heavy emphasis on something called faith. Is it faith we exercise when we proclaim “know that you know”? I tend to think it is not. In fact, “know that you know” appears to be a cheap alternative to true faith. I believe there’s a reason the scriptures so often couple faith with hope. Just as hope is something deeper than “want” or “need”, I believe faith is far deeper and more transcendent than certainty. As my favorite Liturgist put it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s certainty. For what use have the certain for faith?”
Are there questions you dare not ask? What do you suppose would happen if you asked them? As one who’s crossed that chasm, I’ll tell you it can be scary, even painful for a time, but the result is a purity of faith I never could have known otherwise.