At the church where I pastor, we are currently learning from the first book of the Bible – the book of Genesis. This is the book with all those fun stories, like how God created the world, and how people brought sin into the world by eating forbidden fruit and how Noah got drunk and passed out naked one night (look it up – it’s in there).
This week I preached on the story traditionally called “the fall.” In this account, it says that God created people and placed them in a beautiful garden. In this garden, He placed two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He told them not to eat from the second tree. One day a snake says to the woman, Eve,that they should totally eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He tells her that they will be like God if they do. The man and woman decide this is a good idea, eat from the tree, and then become ashamed as they realize they are naked. They hide from God, who (of course, what with being God), finds them and discovers they have done what they were told not to do. They are banished from the garden, and alienated from God. The world has changed.
I am not actually writing a blog post about that story. I am writing about QUESTIONS. Because a funny thing happened when I was preaching this story. After reading the Scripture passage, I asked anyone who had any “questions, confusions or uncertainty” about ANYTHING they had just heard to raise their hands. About 20 people raised their hands.
At this point I resisted the urge to declare: “You bunch of fibbers!!”
I found it very hard to believe that the other 100 people in the room had absolutely no questions, confusions or uncertainty about that passage. No questions about why God did things this way? No uncertainty about this perfect garden and people being given the boot? No confusion about why a snake TALKS?
I laughed and said: “Really? I’m gonna try that again…Raise your hand if you have ANY questions, confusions or uncertainty about this passage.” Slowly, some more people raised their hands, a midst some nervous giggles. I admit I was surprised at the hesitancy. I thought people would be eager to name the struggles they have with a text like this, and to see they are not alone.
I think there are a couple of main reasons that I didn’t get the response I anticipated (outside of the general “I don’t like raising my hand,” “I wasn’t paying attention,” “I was afraid she was going to throw water at me or something”), each of which addresses something important:
1. People didn’t want to admit they had questions
Some might have wondered: “What if raising my hand makes me look dumb?” “What if people think I’m a bad Christian?”
I think this stems from the unfortunate thing many of us came to believe that asking questions in church was bad. “You should believe!” “Just have faith!” “We’ll understand when we get to Heaven!” GOOD Christians don’t ask questions – isn’t that like doubting God?
Many years ago I was part of a study with a group of people, including a woman who was by then in her late sixties. We met for many weeks and she spoke very little. Slowly, the group began to be more vulnerable with each other. One night, out of nowhere, she suddenly said: “I have a question I’ve been wondering about for fifty years and I never thought I could say it out loud: Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers?” And she let out a huge sigh, like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders.
I was dumbfounded. Not by her question – but by the fact that she had wrestled with this for fifty years and did not feel like it was safe to ask. The question she shared I would argue is something that almost every Christian has wondered, but instead of talking about it with others, she kept it in until it literally burst out one night. I think that is so sad. I think it’s sad that she felt like she couldn’t ask a hard question.
If you are like her, I want to say: Questions are not bad. I have a ton of questions about the Bible. I think I have even more, not less, the more I read it. I think questions are wonderful. Questions make us dig in, they make us wrestle, they make us work – and we all know that when we work out, we get stronger. It doesn’t mean that questions won’t be hard sometimes, or that they won’t make make us struggle. It doesn’t mean we’ll always have easy answers, but we should never be afraid to have questions, or to admit we have questions, to raise our hands high in church and say “Why DOES the snake talk?” if we are given the opportunity.
2. People really believed they didn’t have questions
I think this is troublesome for a different reason. Obviously, I know that there are many who have studied this passage and come to peace with it. When they say they don’t have questions, they may mean that they are comfortable with what they believe. However, I also know that as readers of Scripture we can get comfortable. We can wiz along and read things without stopping to really let them seep in. I know this is true because if we really let a lot of these passages go deep– there is no way we wouldn’t have questions. Here are a just a few of my questions from this passage, for example: Where is the Garden of Eden? Why can’t we find it? Why did God create something if He didn’t want people to use it? Was He just tempting us for fun? (seems kind of mean, no?) If we found the tree of life today, and ate from it, would we be immortal? Why did God have to look for them, and why did he ask them what happened (wouldn’t He already know?)? And, have I mentioned: Why does a SNAKE talk?
I could go on.
I think if we read texts like this and confidently say “I don’t have any questions or confusions or uncertainties,” we have become too comfortable. We have become comfortable in what we already think we know and overly certain in our understanding – and that doesn’t leave a lot of space for God to shake us up if He needs to.
Here at Mount Hamilton we’re going to keep studying in the book of Genesis. As we keep going, we’re going to hit a lot of stories that are going to seem weird…or unlikely…or unfair. I want us say as we continue studying: we don’t need to be scared of questions. I am not scared of your questions and I believe God isn’t either. Ask. Question. Learn.
If you are not from Mount Hamilton, I also hope you’ll know this to be true. Maybe the Bible is new or new again to you. If it is, there is no way it’s NOT going to be confusing sometimes, I promise. Don’t let the questions stump you – let them spur you. Ask. Question. Learn.