Estimated reading time: 6 mins.
As I was researching for this post, I was shocked! Book after book, article after article, kept telling me “it’s okay to question God”.
But am I the only one who remembers growing up and hearing that questioning God was one of the worst things you could do? It felt like a cardinal sin!
“You can’t question God!”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“If you question God, it means that you don’t trust God.”
All of these were the answers that I was given to my questions about a challenging circumstance or a situation. While understandable, these answers left me empty, dissatisfied, and ultimately with more questions.
So imagine my surprise when I see this on cbn.com
“If, however, we question [God] because we desperately want to know the answer, because we desperately want to know who our Lord truly is, because we need to see the light in the midst of our own confusion, then I believe it is appropriate.” -Laura Bagby
Wait a minute! I desperately wanted to know the answer. I desperately wanted to know who the Lord was. I needed to see the light in the midst of my own confusion. So why was I instructed to never (EVER) question God?
Well, I think that it’s telling that the authors of the works that I used in my research on this topic were all white. I believe this tendency to never question authority is a result of cultural and societal conditioning that has its roots in the enslavement of Africans in America.
I find it important here to note that the enslavement that occurred in America was different than anything that the world had ever seen before. It was a type called “chattel slavery”. Even in Biblical texts that seem to support slavery, (don’t worry…I’m gonna talk about that too) no Biblical writer ever conceived permanent servitude. In other types of slavery (which are also wrong), the slave owner owned the slave’s labor, but not their body. In chattel slavery, enslaved bodies, labor, family, and humanity belonged to the enslaver forever.
In order to make this type of enslavement sustainable, one of the tools that enslavers used was to beat critical thinking, analysis, and our natural human inquisitive nature out of enslaved individuals. To ask a question, to be critical was seen as disrespectful and worthy of corporal punishment. Curiosity was not a good thing in the eyes of enslavers. It was better if their “property” wouldn’t ask questions. Just shut up and do what I say! (Check out this document that details the enslaver/enslaved relationship with first-hand accounts with enslaved people).
This inhumane treatment was bolstered by “The Slave Bible”. When most people say that the Bible was used to justify enslavement, this is the text they are talking about (another topic that I will cover in the near future). Anything that would have piqued the curiosity of enslaved individuals towards liberation was removed. Their condition seemed, then, to be affirmed by the Bible and by extension by God. And if one couldn’t question his or her enslaver, they certainly couldn’t question God.
This way of thinking seems to have followed African-American religious traditions down through the centuries. Even now, there is someone who read the title of this blog and said, “No! You can’t question God!” Kanye West’s Sunday Service choir recently covered “Stand on the Word” by Celestial Choir. One of the lyrics of the song says
We must not question the good Lord
Have faith in God and trust his words
We don’t know how we don’t know when
To see his day, so we should stand
This seems to intimate that questioning God is evidence of a lack of faith. But the truth is that all throughout scripture, you find something different. Individuals questioned God, not because of a lack of trust, in fact, it was just the opposite. They questioned God because they trusted that the Lord had the answers.
After God instructed Moses to go and speak to Pharaoh, Moses questioned God’s decision-making process: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
When an angel appeared to Gideon to let him know that the Lord was with the children of Israel, Gideon questioned the word: “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13)
David and Jesus both questioned God’s presence in their situation:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalms 22:1)
Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
Here’s what these people understood, and what we can be free to understand now: sometimes life sucks! Sometimes we find ourselves in awful situations, and it sucks! Asking God a question doesn’t indicate an absence of trust.
Here’s another truth: those who discourage us from questioning God are only doing so as a means of avoiding difficult conversations and challenging questions. What’s easier for a church leader: to say “let’s sit down and reason together and really put some effort and thought to the question you’re asking” or to say “just leave it to God”? This makes life easier for them, but it stifles our growth in the process. One of my favorite authors, Dr. Thomas Oden, says this in his book “Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry”
“Opposition, tension, and struggle are necessary for growth, development, and healthy formation. If a muscle is to grow strong, it must push against something, be strengthened by exercise — the more, the stronger, as any athlete knows. Without tension or testing, it atrophies.”