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The Art of Asking

The Art of Asking

By Amanda

question-markI have a special place in my heart for heretics and oddballs, misfits and malcontents. Always have. I remember the first time I saw the movie Joan of Arc, I thought she was amazing, not necessarily because I thought she was right, but because she  thought she was right and at the very least, sincere. It wasn’t just a petty argument she was waging, it was war. And ultimately she was alone with her principles, burning at the stake.

That takes huevos.

Those who question, who rock the boat, who ask “why?” are always burned at the stake in one way or another.

I remember one of our (my and my husband’s) first years working with youth kids at a church, we had a “fellowship night” — basically a night where we hang out with each other and have fun in the safe confines of Christianity. I was sitting with a group of girls and asked them the token Christian question, “So what is God doing in your life?” The girls went around and shared their teenaged woes until it came to one girl, who had recently moved to town after her parents’ split, to live with her dad and his new wife. She looked straight at me and said, “I don’t even know if God is real. I don’t even know if He cares. I don’t know what I believe. I don’t read my Bible and I hate living here.” I looked straight at her and responded, “That is the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard.”

Honestly, in that setting and in almost any sitting I had ever experienced, it was plain awesomeness to hear a 15 year-old question everything. I knew things would only get better for her from there, because she dared to ask. She dared to challenge everything she’d been taught because, quite frankly, it didn’t match up with how her life had turned out.

Another one of my favorite “heretics” is a modern fellow, Rob Bell. I put this label in quotes because I’m sarcastic. I have come to believe that the face of God can be seen just about everywhere, and mostly where I’ve been told I’ll never see Him, so pardon me if I think this guy doles out amazing morsels mixed in with crap. Reading tonight I came to a chapter about questions:

Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. There is more to know. . . . Maybe that is who God is looking for — people who don’t just sit there and mindlessly accept whatever comes their way.

In my church experience I was virtually handed a manual about God, tucked nicely into chapters and lived out in rules and regulations that supposedly made me different from everyone else. I hated it even then, but fear kept me rooted, but the questions swirled. They still do.

Why do we fear questions?

Does every question have an answer?

Is an unanswered question dangerous?

Are we asking the right questions?

Who says your answer is the right one?

If I’m sincerely wrong, am I still wrong?

It’s not about asking questions for the sake of questions:

Central to the Christian experience is the art of questioning God. Not belligerent, arrogant questions that have no respect for our maker, but naked, honest, vulnerable, raw questions, arising out of the awe that comes from engaging the living God.

 ~Rob Bell,  heretic

The last few years everything I’ve been taught has been tested: marriage, divorce, child-rearing, money, politics, religion, friendships, sex, black/white and all the gray in between. And most of these subjects have a list of questions attached to them that make me want to hide under the covers, because I haven’t found answers yet for most of them. Are there answers? I hope so, because it makes me feel better, but then again, can I live without answers?

The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not.

~aforementioned heretic

I suppose it’s not that there aren’t answers to everything, but sometimes we are not capable of grasping them. They elude us, our intellectual and emotional capabilities — they are unfathomable.

Yet we keep asking.

We must have been designed to ask.



  1. I would be curious how you would apply these ideas to religion, and to Christianity specifically. Like, what would you say to someone who said, “Yes, I agree, we need to question everything and take nothing simply on authority. That’s why I reject the Christian religion: its central tenets cannot be proven, only accepted by faith on the authority of someone or something else.”


    One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know whence it was. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

    LUKE 20:1-8.

    Maybe, Jason?

    Just random thoughts, friend.


  3. Sorry. Dropping a j-bomb is a powerplay move.

  4. +1 Amanda. Good post.

    Here’s something I wrote. Only if you want to.

  5. “Can I live without answers?” Good stuff Amanda, love it. And right in line with things I’ve been thinking through as a mom of teens, who are certainly asking questions – not always to me. I want them to ask, so they can know that they know. While all the while, I know that will only really come to them through life’s hard knocks, and I cringe at what they may have to go through…remembering what I went through to grow, the questions I’ve asked as the result of crap. The unfairness of it all, and the unanswered questions. I think that’s central to faith – how much we handle without answers, but simply trust. Love your questioning heart…

  6. Jason and Andrew – so sorry for my tardy response. To both of you I would say that I’m on a journey. I don’t have answers, let alone absolutes. for me personally, I accept the authority or CHRIST, but not necessarily that of the church. I’m still feeling through my church experiences and trying desperately to separate then from Christ. The other day my husband said sometimes it bothers him that way I talk about God because it can come across as blasphemous the way I fail to discern church from God. My point being (which I had to explain to him) I was taught that what I learned as a kid at church, was the truth. There was no separating the two.The church (my church and denomination) was the voice of God. He was only working in my denomination, no one else quite had it right.

    While I wholly reject this philosophy, I refuse to let go of Christ. I am learning to sort through truth versus opinions, religious rituals, regulations. God has been patient with me as I believe He is with all people who seek to know Him. How we know Him may look different for each of us. I am confident though that the “whole earth is full of His glory,” meaning for me, He reveals Himself in many many ways, through the wisdom of Christian and non-Christian alike. Through the poetry and writing, art and music of people who have inklings of truth and those who are absorbed by a religious system, maybe the former more so.

    Rachel, thank you for commenting. Asking questions, from many sources is great, in my opinion. It allows kids and adults to come to genuine convictions because they are given a broad view of options and can use their minds and convictions to determine what they will hold to. I never want to spoon feed my kids my convictions – they are actually much more conservative than mine, but I’m totally ok with that if they are genuinely held and wisely determined.

  7. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for being so generous about your journey in the faith.

    I should tell you upfront I am ordained as a deacon (although I am “inactive” since I left the congregation where I was originally installed, I am still ordained though) in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, residing in Northern California.

    I think we shared similar upbringings, mine was in an independent fundamentalist Baptist church.

    I met my wife, who was raised Orthodox Presbyterian, when I was 19. That’s how I came to find this group, which I really like. My convictions run deep, and are not just the result of “marrying in” to it.

    I don’t want to be preachy (to late for that?)so I will leave it that. And questions, and I’d be happy to share my opinions. Fyi: I got to understand Jason and found this blog because I follow his other blog. I find his writing good and provocative, hence, I read him out here, and there.

    Grace and peace.

  8. Andrew, thank you. Yes similar backgrounds and I too have found much solace in the Presbyterian church; I love being reminded of what Christ has done for me because I’m fully aware I can never meet the expectations I was brought up to live under. My husband and I attend an evangelical church where he is actually as associate pastor ( I know, worst pastor’s wife ever!) but the church body gives me so much freedom to be me. The church style doesn’t resonate with me deeply, but the people do. God’s been patient to win my heart back day after day. Thank you for sharing and you’re not preachy. I sincerely appreciate it.

  9. Amanda, that’s awesome your husband is a pastor. God be him and your family!

    Before I go, let me get just a tad preachy, and share something on what you wrote earlier:

    There was no separating the two.The church (my church and denomination) was the voice of God. He was only working in my denomination, no one else quite had it right.

    What struck me was when you said “voice of God,” as I believe you experienced a struggle that I did in my own faith journey.

    I was asked to assent to the membership vow of the OPC, upon joining, that the Bible is the Word of God.

    I learned via liberal protestants (I.e. Paul Tillich, and Karl Barth to a lesser extent) that the Bible was not the Word of God, but Christ is.

    I bring it up, because the dissonance between what my church required, and what I learned in high school, had huge implications as I worked this out in my mind. It took years to resolve in my mind and eventually come down on the side of my church, where I had originally assented, and I was more firm that joining the OPC was right.

    I’m expanding on your idea of your church having the “voice of God,” and showing you, hopefully, you are not alone in your struggle, if you are still working out your own beliefs.

    My name here links to a website I made. Feel free to check that out and even post. Thanks again for sharing. May God be praised as we wrestle these weighty matters.


  10. The question that rocked my world: if Christianity was not true, would I be able to recognize that?

    I honestly answered this question to myself, and the answer scared me. My answer: no, I would not be able to recognize it. I had nurtured a faith that could not be shaken, even by the truth.

    That was the best question I ever asked myself. The healing began afterward.

  11. I had nurtured a faith that could not be shaken, even by the truth.

    A question, Johnny. If I may.

    What is truth?

  12. Hi Andrew. Great question. The way I use the word ‘truth’ is to refer to the way things really are regardless of how they are perceived.

    How does that work for you?

  13. That’ll do, Johnny.



  14. Amanda, I can totally relate to your experiences with your husband. Although years ago, I was the one telling Johnny that it bothered me that he was questioning the faith that seemed so rock solid to me. I did not want to be brought down by his doubts. Once I started really trying to answer a lot of the questions he had about the church and about our faith, I realized the answers I had were not satisfactory for me either. We wrestled through a lot of issues together and I feel it has made our marriage stronger and my view of God bigger (though blasphemous to some). Ultimately, I realized that I am ok with NOT having the answers and I have great peace with that. I believe one day my questions may be answered, but maybe not. God certainly knows how I have wrestled; I don’t believe he will punish me for that. It is amazingly freeing to just “let go and let God.” ;) Sending you hugs, Connie

  15. Having been a pastor for so long, you have seen all kinds of tragedies– being a pastor during 9/11 and also just seeing what any pastor in America sees in any given week. How do you counsel somebody who’s struggling with evil and suffering, not just existentially but really wrestling with how this could possibly allow for God?
    The first thing I do pastorally is say: I want you to know that God is pretty patient with us when we are angry and upset over this subject. Psalm 39 and Psalm 88 end on a terrible note, with the psalmist basically saying to God, “Look away from me so I can have a little bit of peace before I die.” So it’s obviously very despondent. Derek Kidner, in his little book on the Psalms, says that the presence of such psalms shows the patience of God with us. He says, “He knows how men speak when they are desperate.” That’s a wonderful statement. The fact that they’re in the canon shows that God says, “Look, I know that sometimes people pray and pray, and they don’t land on their feet like most of the psalmists do.” Kidner says, “I want you to know that you’re not saved by your patience, and you’re not saved by your perfect prayers and perfect attitude. You’re saved by what Jesus Christ has done for you. So if you’re struggling with this and feeling kind of guilty–like, ‘I should trust God, but I’m mad at him, I don’t understand’– he’s patient with you; you don’t have to have perfect feelings.” They’re kind of used to ministers sitting there listening and then giving the right theological answers; the impression they get is, “Unless I have my attitude just right, God’s going to get me.”

    I’m actually talking about justification, saying that we’re not saved by right attitudes. But then I do what I do in the book. I say there’s a philosophical answer to the problem of evil: if you have a God big enough to be mad at for not stopping evil, then you have a God big enough to have reasons why he hasn’t stopped evil that you can’t conceive of. In other words, if you’ve got a God who’s that infinite, that omniscient, that he’s big enough that you’re mad at him for not stopping it, then he’s got to be able to have reasons for letting these things go that you can’t think of–you can’t have it both ways. I know that’s a philosophical judo move, and I know it’s not really doing anything other than to say that you can’t disprove the existence of God from evil. The premise is that, because I can’t think of any reason why God would let this happen, therefore there can’t be any. Look at that syllogism–that can’t be, and because I can’t think of a reason therefore there can’t be any–that’s a non sequitur. But then you very quickly have to say that in other faiths, God is apart from suffering. All we know is that although we don’t know what reasons God does have for allowing evil and suffering to continue, it can’t be that he doesn’t love us or care, or he wouldn’t have actually, through the incarnation, become enmeshed in it himself. Whatever the reasons are, it can’t be that he doesn’t care, because he’s proven that by the incarnation and the cross. And that’s what we’ve got in Christianity–not an answer, but a personal involvement.

  16. Ya, heretics like Bell are wonderful I love how they don’t make sense such as in this disaster:

    “The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not.”

    It is so liberating that God didn’t (probably couldn’t) leave the world any words so that we could know Him. Certainly if his words were of the language type, they’d fail, because language fails (which means Bell’s words fail as well, and boy do they). And we know the Bible does not definitively explain God or our predicament. Can’t be having God be something he is.

  17. When theological giants converse: Oprah interviewing Rob Bell.

    Oprah: What is the soul?
    Bell: It’s the thing that keeps telling you there’s more.

    O: What’s your definition of God?
    B: Like a song you hear in another room that sounds beautiful but can only hear a little bit so you move the furniture around and open a window and turn the knobs all the way to the right and try to get others in to hear it so the people in the next houses can hear it.

    O: What does prayer mean to you?
    B: Prayer to me is usually one word which is Yes.

    O: What do you think happens when we die?
    B: I think there’s a ton of Ohhhh, because of all the people who’ve gone before. I think of my grandpa and heritage and family and bloodline. I somehow think of flesh and blood. I don’t think of gold or a throne or a “Hello Rob, well done, you’re strange but I like you anyway.” I don’t think of that. (Ironically he won’t hear the well done statement).

    It’s all I think , I think. Unsurprisingly none of his answers were biblical but that makes sense because Bell is not a Christian, so there you go.

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