Of Questions, Quests, and Jewishness
So I figure we’ve got a good thing going with the etymology kick. Let’s keep dipping into the well of http://www.etymonline.com/.
‘Question’ comes from the Latin quæstionem, meaning “a seeking, an inquiry.” The root of quæstionem is quærere, from where we get ‘query,’ and means ‘to gain, to ask.’ ‘Quest’ comes from the same Latin parents, but picks up an edgy sense of adventure in the 14th Century.
I think asking theological questions is an adventure, is a quest, of sorts. A regular Indiana Jones-esque pursuit, when you think about it. Lots of unexpecteds, a high dose of risk, and no small amount of thrill (yes, I know I have a low fun-threshold).
No guarantees on the romance.
A good friend and mentor of mine, Murray Haar, teaches me much from his Jewish tradition. Two nuggets I’ll pass your way on this winter evening.
First, he says that Christians are not just a bit anxious about questions.
Jews believe that wrangling about and with God, asking the questions, is sacred. It’s what you do when you are in relationship with God.
Christians, he maintains, get jumpy about them. We’re almost allergic to them. What happens if you ask a really good question? You might doubt! You might disbelieve! And what happens if in that very moment, you die?
I think he’s right.
And it’s not just a matter of what happens when you die, but who are you? What is your identity if you aren’t sure that you believe that Jesus is the Christ?
Even those of us from theological traditions sort of figure that we have the corner on the grace market really, in the end, aren’t so sure. For if we did, we’d don our Indiana Jones hats, put on our boots, and go. Whenever we’d get a chance.
Instead, I think we’re quite content to talk about faith and trust and Scripture and belief in God and act like we know what those naturally mean.
My daughter Else (pronounced Elsa) loves questions. Even at 5, she was asking the questions. For a while she loved to hear the story of Jesus every night before she went to sleep. So one night, after telling her (for truly the I-can’t-count-that-highteenth time) all about the women finding an empty tomb, and then learning that Jesus was actually alive again, and wasn’t that a wonderful way to fall asleep, knowing that life wins, that Jesus is stronger than death in the end, Elsegirl looked at me.
“Mommy,” she said slowly, “why didn’t the soldiers kill Jesus the second time that he was alive?”
“Wow, baby girl,” I said. “I spend most of my non-Mommy time thinking about God. It’s what I do. And I wonder about God a lot lot lot. And that is one question I have never wondered about, and now I am going to wonder it. A lot lot lot.”
Second Murray thought for the evening. After yeshiva, his school as a young boy, Murray knew the evening question would not be “What did you learn today?” but rather “Did you ask any good questions today?”
That’s cool. It’s a habit I now use with my children.
And one I share with you tonight.
What good questions have you asked lately?
Except that…what if those questions are of the big kind. And what if your job is to be the pastor and shepherd of Gods people. What if this person starts questioning…the trinity? Is this the best way to understand God or not? Could there be another way to understand God? Or the divinity of Jesus…How is Jesus divine? Or is he? Is it necessary to understand the natures of Christ or not? Does God care what our answer is to these questions? What if my answers are wrong?
I love your reflection but I don’t think our questions are as innocent as your daughters. And sometimes they take us to uncomfortable places. Sometimes they lead us to doubt the doctrines we were taught.
Last thing…I too have a Jewish friend who keeps me filled with questions. At his Sedar this year he stood up and asked the congregation for their questions. It blew me away. Maybe faithfulness in relation to God always contains a questioning element. Maybe thats what it means to be faithful…
Now -that-‘s a good question.
Yes. I totally concede that my daughter’s questions could be relatively innocuous, when held up against the sorts you put forth!
But my post isn’t so much about -particular- questions as it is about a posture -toward- questions.
Are there certain things that a pastor should disallow as being open to questions?
On what grounds?
And do questions have to be met with answers? Or, as I say at OMG, could -responses- be, in a sense, just as faithful?
The questions, from the innocuous to the threatening, are expressions of acknowledgement of the mystery of God.
Pat answers try and solve a mystery that can’t be solved.
My mentor told of the time when his pastor tried to teach his confirmation class about the Trinity. Walt became increasingly unsure about what he was hearing, and finally raised his had and confessed that he still didn’t understand. His pastor’s response? “Shut up and believe!”
Walt, of course, laughed as he told the tale, but there is something about it that isn’t funny at all.
What if questions were an allowance not only to wonder, but also to ground our beliefs?
Why, in fact, -do- we believe that that Jesus ascended? Why, in fact, do we think he didn’t just call it a wrap when he had the chance? Why, in fact, is there still suffering? How cool to be given an opportunity to research instead of just recite!
And, to go to your questions, why, in fact, is there the Trinity? Why, in fact, do we believe that Jesus is divine?
What an opportunity to articulate the faith, and to give someone some reasons to own their faith, rather than merely regurgitating it!
What an opportunity to acknowledge that much of what we have learned has been taught by the “winners” of history’s power battles?
What an opportunity to acknowledge that life is messy, and diverse, and rich…as is faith?
The truth is that increasingly, whether we in the Church want to openly accept it or not, people don’t need our welcome of questions to know that there are reasons to have them.
How fantastic if we, as a system, were not to be like the three monkeys, ignoring that thick is, and instead embrace and welcome the questions…questions which even we clergy, when we are honest, have?
Maybe we can even be more like your Jewish friend, and even like Jesus the Jew, who himself had questions which he unabashedly shouted to the high heavens: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
Maybe, as you say, that’s what it means to be faithful.
Thanks for your questions, and the best I’ve got back for you are responses and more questions.