wordpress stats plugin

When You Get Tired of Asking Questions ~ Finding Church

We sat around the tables, Bibles open to Romans 8. I usually dread classes on this book because it so often comes across harsh and heavy-handed. But this chapter, soaking up the reassurances of God’s love and His promise to co-opt the bad that happens and bring good out of it.

We read verses 31-33.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. (NIV)

The leader asked our class who is against us, and suggested that a better sense of what Paul wrote there is “Since God is for us, who can be against us?”

raise hand in class

I raised my hand and answered, “Satan.”

Another in the class said, “The world, the devil, and our flesh.”

Then a woman across from me spoke. “God used to be against us before we were saved. He was both judge and prosecutor. Once we are declared righteous, He is no longer the prosecutor against us, and as judge, He declares us not guilty.”

Everything about what she said bothered me. I have never seen anything that sets God, who we believe to be just, up as both judge and prosecutor against sinners. How can that be, if he is just and fair? You can’t fairly judge a case which you are also prosecuting or defending. That’s a conflict of interest. And doesn’t the Bible state that Satan is the one who accuses us? Wouldn’t that make him the prosecutor in this analogy? The whole thing was deeply unsettling.

Normally, I would raise my hand and ask about it. I’ve joked that asking questions no-one else is willing to say out loud is my spiritual gift.

But I didn’t say anything. The leader didn’t correct her, so he seemed to be comfortable with the analogy. I know that the ramifications of such a discussion extend into one’s understanding of the atonement – what exactly happened when Jesus died for our sins. And I further know that some churches take their view of the atonement very seriously, particularly those who hold to “penal substitutionary atonement” (that links to more detail – I’ll not go into it here). At this point in my life, I find “Christus Victor” more compelling (think of the story line of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis).

I didn’t say anything because I don’t know how comfortable they are discussing other views of things like this. I’ve been criticized harshly for bringing things like this up in the past. Maybe it depends on the leader. Probably it depends on the topic. I don’t want to cause trouble. I guess it boils to not knowing if it’s safe. The only way to find out, I suppose, is to try. But I’m afraid to.

I also didn’t say anything because part of me is tired of all the thinking and analyzing and debating and drawing lines in the sand. I’m becoming more “live and let live” about things like this. If they want to see God that way, and if they love and trust him and do what he says, that’s fine, right? I just want to love and trust God as I should. I want to do better at living how He says to live. And I don’t think such debates help me in that endeavor.

So I kept my thoughts to myself. I read the words of the chapter again, reminding myself that even when the clouds of depression close in, even when my grief crashes over me like high tide again, even when my son’s nosebleed brings back haunting and traumatic memories of Elli’s blood-everywhere nosebleeds, God is trustworthy and He loves me.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

       They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
       We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (The Message)

P.S. I am leaving for Sri Lanka next week, so this is the last Finding Church post I will share until mid-September. I have some exciting things planned for the fall, so stay tuned!

When do you ask questions, and when do you keep them to yourself? How important is settling some of these debates to actually doing what God asks us to do?

 

Sign up to receive new posts in your email.

I generally post 1-2 times per week. You will only receive an email from me if I have posted something new. I hate spam and promise never to send it to you.

Comments

  1. How to say this without it sounding harsh- my husband has gently told me in the past that I spoke up too much at church. I know that he knows what I meant when I spoke up. But others need a bit more background sometimes for a complete and in-depth answer. I’m a lot quieter now in settings like that than I used to be. Though sometimes silence is assumed to be agreement. I keep discussions like that for family, close friends, and yes, my blog, too.
    I’m already praying for your Sri Lanka trip. I want to hear all about it.
    Jennifer recently posted..Dr. Dobson’s Handbook of Family AdviceMy Profile

    • Yeah, I think I’ve spoken up too much in the past. I’m trying to practice listening far more than speaking. But you’re right about silence being taken for agreement — I think it’s really important in certain areas to speak up. We had that situation recently and I KNEW that to remain silent implied approval. We did not approve so we could not remain silent. Nor could we remain.

  2. I can totally relate but I never ask in a group of people because I’m too afraid of being attacked or being one of those people who takes the group on some really long discussion :) So, I find safe people to ask my questions to in private or I do my own research. It’s very sad that we can’t feel safe to ask but sometimes maybe it’s something God wants to discuss with you privately. Praying for your Sri Lanka trip! I bet it is going to be amazing!
    Mel @ Trailing After God recently posted..When Your Answer Isn’t GentleMy Profile

    • That’s a good point — maybe some of our questions are better worked out with God and a small handful of safe friends.

      Thank you so much for praying!

  3. I would have the exact same response to that comment, Joy. Oy vey. But in a new group, with people I didn’t know – I probably wouldn’t have said anything. But I will say this particular issue is one I’m increasingly brave about because I think it’s hugely important. HUGEly. This view of God distresses me and seems so far from the biblical picture. God is never against us – against sin, okay. But us? No. The incarnation makes no sense at all in the worldview, does it?

    Praying for you as you travel – looking forward to what emerges in you and in your writing as a result of this trip.
    Diana Trautwein recently posted..An African Journal – Post One: Beneath the SurfaceMy Profile

    • Exactly. If God is against us, why would he rescue us?

      Thank you so much for praying.

      • I was recently given a book that (amongst other things) said that God hates sinners. Not sin, but sinners.
        I am a lover of books, but that one went in the bin.
        :)

  4. I ask questions when I know the environment is supportive of discussion, otherwise I tend to keep my questions to myself. The discussion is important, but arguments are frequently destructive. Praying for you as you travel to Sri Lanka!

    • Thank you for your prayers, Chrystal! And yes, arguments aren’t helpful. But discussions can be really healthy, especially in areas where we really don’t know for sure. I like to hear the pros and cons of a variety of takes on things, and I like to hear people acknowledge that in fact, we just don’t know. But it takes a special kind of person to say that. So far, I’ve seen willingness to go there at this particular church, but I’m still cautious.

  5. I love the Christus Victor perspective. I think you knew within that it wasn’t the time to ask the question. I think the woman’s analogy is a step in the right direction as far as being judged ‘not guilty’.
    Sisterlisa recently posted..Spiritual Abuse AdvocacyMy Profile

    • I think you’re right. I’m learning to listen to my gut more.

      I’m not sure what I think about being declared “not guilty.” If we very clearly have fallen short, then is it right to declare someone innocent? I wonder if the better phrase to use is “pardoned.” It implies guilt, but it also wipes the record clean and offers full forgiveness. Just thinking out loud here.

      • Here’s how I see it. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (death) that makes us think ‘guilty’. But the tree of life (resurrection) says ‘perfect’. A pardon implies a knowledge of past guilt, while God forgets as far as the east is to west. I think guilt being truly covered is hard to imagine, so I don’t even go there. I just focus on Christ, in him there is no guilt. There is no condemnation to those in Christ.
        Sisterlisa recently posted..Spiritual Abuse AdvocacyMy Profile

  6. If someone is new to that process, it may seem confusing or even intimidating. In reality, talking to God is what you make it — as simple as talking to a friend or as formal as a prayer service in a church. An open heart and mind, along with a little practice, makes prayer a means of spiritual communication available to anyone.

  7. I am often not quite sure when to speak up and when not to speak up. Even one time when I was leading a class and was basically using the questions in the study guide that SHOULD have sparked some good discussion, people still didn’t really get it; they just wanted to give a basic, non-thinking answer.

    Another time, a member of a committee I was on sent all of us on the committee one of the chain-emails about the atheist professor and christian student and suggested that we use it in our moms group. I emailed back and said I didn’t think we should do that and gave a bunch of reasons why the email was not valid. A few days later at our meeting, I had a very chilly reception, and I can only guess that it was because I said God and science were not enemies.

    I guess you never really know when a group situation is going to be a “safe” place for asking questions or even educating people…and that is frustrating. Some places that you think should be safe are not (I found out later that because of that 2nd example, people were then telling other people in the church that I had ‘shady theology’) and places you might think are not safe could very well be.
    Kelly J Youngblood recently posted..Standing Up AloneMy Profile

    • Maybe the response you got is exactly why people hesitate to give anything but non-thinking answers. They are afraid of the cold shoulder, the reprimand, the risk of revealing what they really think (or what they really don’t know). It is tough. I’ve tried to be the one who asks the questions in an effort to make things safe, but I can’t help but hesitate a little more after being burned.

      • Yep…and then I go back to thinking that I am all alone in wanting to ask questions and think (I know, that sounds horribly snobby, doesn’t it, to say I am the only one who thinks?) and stereotypes of Christians as not using their brains are reinforced and Biblical illiteracy continues to be a problem…and so it goes.
        Kelly J Youngblood recently posted..Book Review: Beyond Evangelical by Frank ViolaMy Profile

  8. Joy, I appreciate your blog so much! I too have been criticized for asking difficult questions. How are we going to learn if we can’t ask questions and have discussions. I also agree that silence does sometimes mean agreement. Praying for your Sri Lanka trip.

  9. Howdy, Joy. I have been teaching Bible studies (large and small) for 35+ years. And they are based on questions. In fact, when I teach adult instruction class (which lasts 21-26 weeks), I let the questions of participants guide the direction of discussion. I know what I want to cover, and we always end up covering everything I want. But the questions are critical. And I don’t let anyone get by with “non-thinking answers.”

    Many years ago, we had a husband and wife that had come out of a cult. I met with them several times and went through the Law and Gospel (yes, God speaks Law to condemn sin, and Gospel to bring life, hope, etc. I have much more to write in regard to the topic of this post, too!). Obviously they had many questions. Then I suggested they attend Sunday morning Bible class (by that time we had about 50 people). I commented, “I allow any question.” The wife said: “No, you don’t!” I was surprised to say the least! I reassured her that I allowed any question. So a few weeks later they came to Bible study and attended every week; they didn’t say a word in class for months.

    At the time I was teaching Galatians (it only took 18 months). I always began every class with “Does anyone have any question that is pressing?” About the fifth month when I asked that class, the wife jumped right in and said, “You really meant it, didn’t you?” Everyone was shocked “what in the world is she talking about?” So, between her and me, we explained the background to her comment. They had both been in the cult long enough that they were conditioned to believe that no one would speak against the pastor. And the pastor would only allow questions he had approved or planted. It was such a surprise to them that after five months they really understood that any question was acceptable and would be addressed. (BTW: my method of answering was not to answer, but to ask: “Okay, so how do we go about addressing the question?” Then we would begin exploring that question in the Bible.)

    Rich
    exegete77 recently posted..“Sacred” texts Pt 1: Challenge of TranslatingMy Profile

    • I’ve been thinking about this comment all day. It makes me wonder if I have more wounds from our most recent church experience than I thought. Thank you for sharing the story — it has gotten me thinking hard, and I like that.

      • This hit me, too. I’m now in a good church with wonderful, loving people, but I was just talking to one of them recently about what we went through at the hands of the previous church and I described the emotional battle as being something like having to be deprogrammed. It was agonizing and took several years to recover from. We have other people coming from the previous church now, too, and I look at them and hear what they are saying….and thank God that we came out of it okay, even if it did take a long time.
        Stacy recently posted..Love Is A VerbMy Profile

  10. Reading this, I immediately thought back to the trite, lowest-common-denominator graphic used when evanelizing (esp. in Third World countries). You know the one – man on one side, sin the chasm in front of him – the crater created by sin – heaven on the other side. Bridging the gap, the cross laid down flat. What I can’t imagine is God standing on Heaven’s side, cursing the sinner who remains on the escarpment of the unredeemed, God cussing him out for not getting on to the bridge. I can’t shake that image. it doesn’t fit with everything else I know about a compassionate, sacrificial, passionately pursuing Lover of a God.

    As far as pursuing arguments, getting down to the nitty-gritty Truth at all costs…well, I invested in an industrial strength stapler and sealed my lips shut after our painful leavetaking from our last church. It takes an awful lot of prodding for me to voice my opinion. The verse that is leading me in this new development of my character? From 2 Timothy 2: Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

    (2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV)
    Genevieve Thul @ Turquoise Gates recently posted..Nine and already wiseMy Profile

  11. Bit late to the party here, but just wanted to say that this was great – and that every time I read one of your posts I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit.

    I’m one of those who questions and is difficult. I am fortunate enough not to have had the kind of reception you did though. Generally, I find that I scare people rather than getting criticism or correction back. That is possibly partly because I have been in Christian ministry for a long time and because I know the Bible well and am not afraid to challenge leaders. And also partly because I ask all my questions with an emotional intensity – it MATTERS. And also because I speak out of fear – because I don’t understand, and I feel lonely because others seem to and I don’t know why I’m the only one who struggles with these things, and then that fear is disguised by antagonistic questioning. I’m trying to see if I can push things, and if I will still be loved.

    I am blessed to say that, by and large, even when people haven’t answered my questions satisfactorily or have said stupid things in response, they haven’t really challenged the fact that I ask these questions. That’s probably why I’m still a Christian.

    I’m really saddened to hear of your experience of encountering such criticism. Perhaps it’s a US/UK difference – I think we’re more accustomed to differences of opinion here, we’re a smaller island with fewer Christians and have to rub along together a bit more.

    And oh – how it matters how people receive the questions. It does, it does matter.

    I am trying to work out whether or not it is a positive thing or a negative thing that you didn’t ask the question this time. Sometimes it’s because we’re just worn down by everything and don’t want to get into a battle this time. Sometimes it’s like we figure, ‘they’ve got it a bit wrong, but never mind – I’m secure in what I think, and that’s okay.’ I guess it’s whether the silence is coming from a place of contentment or a place of weariness and fear-of-being-clobbered. I guess you’ll have a better idea of which of those it is than I will…

    Keep writing, keep asking, keep answering – even if only on the blog. I like your questions – and your answers. Blessings.
    Tanya Marlow recently posted..DustMy Profile

    • The way I look at it, and I tell people, if you have a question then at least 3-5 more in a group of 20 will have the same question but are afraid to ask. That is why I encourage questions, any questions. Sometimes people start with “This is a stupid question…” Most often I find that they are not only NOT stupid questions, but very profound questions that need to be asked.

      Tanya wrote: “ I ask all my questions with an emotional intensity – it MATTERS.”

      All I can say is, “AMEN!” It does matter! And usually behind every question is a foundational doctrine that needs to be explored.
      exegete77 recently posted..“Sacred” Texts pt 2: Psalm 23My Profile

  12. I know my husband will not always correct someone who shares what they think even if he disagrees with it. He doesn’t want anyone to feel shut down for expressing their views. (Unless it’s really blatantly un-Biblical).

    But regarding your question, John 12:47-48 answers that for me.
    Lady Jennie recently posted..Salade PaysanneMy Profile