“How does this work?” “Why did that happen?” “Is this really true?”
I love questions. I enjoy learning from insightful responses (either spoken or read) and delight in providing a helpful answer to questions others have. Even questions for which I have no answer provide pleasure through pondering how I might find a good response. Questions can indicate a desire to learn, a willingness to challenge authority, and even a lack of confidence in a particular explanation or belief. Many believe that Christianity is threatened by questions. The example below illustrates this idea that questions dishonor God and that faith suppresses questions (just search for “faith vs. science quotes” for more examples).
One of my favorite passages addressing this mischaracterization of true faith is found in Matthew 11:2–6. John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
On one level, the question is ridiculous. Consider the background of John the Baptist. While he was in his mother’s womb, he recognized when Mary entered the room, pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:39–45). John’s primary mission in life was to proclaim the coming of the Messiah so that people would repent in preparation (Matthew 3). When Jesus came to John for baptism, John declared that it was Jesus who should baptize him (Matthew 3:14). When Jesus persisted and John baptized him, John saw the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16–17). John the Baptist, of all people, should have known who Jesus was!
On a deeper level, the question reflects a genuine desire for truth. Sitting in prison, John awaited execution for preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. John sought to know if he had preached in vain or if Jesus was who he claimed to be. And John was willing to live (or die) as long as he followed the truth.
If, as many claim, true faith means not asking questions, Jesus would have repudiated John’s query. But Jesus did not say, “Come on John, you just gotta have faith.” Nor did he belittle John for having some doubt about his identity. Jesus responded in a markedly different fashion, as recorded in Matthew 11:4–6: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosyare cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus provided a string of evidence identifying himself as the Messiah. To paraphrase his response, “Look at the evidence and draw the best conclusion.” And John exercised genuine faith by acting according to the truth.
It does seem that asking questions serves two purposes. Sometimes we ask questions to obscure the truth and justify our doubt (like Zechariah in Luke 1:18–23). We can also ask questions to understand the truth better in order to follow more confidently (like Mary in Luke 1:26–38).
I regularly speak to students about what makes a good scientist. One of my main points is that scientists know how to ask good questions (those that clarify the truth) and then diligently seek answers to those questions. Those who want the truth need not fear an honest question. Jesus embraced honest questions, and so should we.