I remember, still, seeing the book on the side of my bed in my childhood bedroom, feeling a strong compulsion to hide it. I had been told this book contained Potentially Dangerous Information, that it was a huge step outside of what the Bible taught, what churches believed.
What I remember is that it…didn’t say very much. What I remember is that it asked a lot of questions. What I remember, as a young teenager, was feeling confused. I remember debriefing with my parents and reporting, “I don’t think this is what everyone is saying it is.”
I remember wondering why this was such a big deal, mulling over it, and finally asking myself, is it because of his questions? Is it because he asked the wrong ones? Were his questions alone enough to cause this much of a stir?
I remember, several years later, enduring a challenging and lonely season, wrestling with my sense of belonging, of vocation, of self. I remember a church leader saying to a group I was part of that life with God should have a certain sweetness and lightness to it, and if not, there was clearly something wrong.
I wondered, does this mean there is something wrong with me?
I remember, a few years after that, enduring a period of such profound doubt and despair that I wondered if this thing, faith, could really be for me anymore, if I could ever go back to the way things were. My desperation sent me to Google, to popular Christian blogs and websites, where I found article after article about how doubt is most definitely sin and question-asking is a slippery slope.
There was nothing left to ask myself except, is there a way forward for me like this?
And then I remember, a few years ago, when I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel of my dark season and being yanked out of it by one simple story, hearing a pastor teach something from Scripture in a way I’d never heard it before:
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man through the night (v 24). The word used here for “wrestle” is a strange and uncommon word in the context of the Old Testament – and the form of the verb has led some scholars to believe that it indicates there was not a true physical presence for this match but a spiritual force. Sure enough, it’s later revealed by the man that Jacob “fought with God,” and Jacob affirms that “I have seen God face to face…” (v 30.) They fought so hard that Scripture tells us Jacob’s hip actually went out of socket.
This is a profoundly unusual story, that Jacob would have this sort of interaction with God, that he would struggle with God, and that after it – and here’s the most wonderful part – God would bless him (v 29.)
The pastor I heard teach from this passage emphasized how Jacob wrestled with God. The very man who would become the father of God’s chosen people, Israel, earned his name after a night of interaction with God in the most intense of ways.
I remember feeling the familiar confusion that had marked me for years, but this time it was permeated with hope and relief– could I have permission to wrestle with God in this way, too?
There are other examples of this sort of wrestling throughout Scripture. The story of Job details the main character, Job himself, questioning God for the horrible misfortune brought upon him after he loses his family and essentially all of his earthly possessions. The book of Habakkuk begins with, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab 1:1.) Hear it not from me but from the teachers who gave me permission to see it and, most importantly, the Scripture itself: God can handle your questions. God can handle your doubts.
But are you, like I was, afraid to ask them?
Let me go first. May I inspire your own wonderings?
You know that when you have a true, real friend, or maybe a spouse, you don’t neglect asking them questions because you’re afraid of the answers, right? You know that being afraid to talk about hard things with the people you love most is often a sign of distrust, even of dysfunction? You know that when you really love someone you stay up late at night and share the bowels of your heart with them? You know that no question is too scary, even if the tears roll down your cheeks, because the answer will draw you closer together, even if the answer isn’t one you wanted to hear?
Do you believe that God is bigger than your questions? That he is not befuddled by your doubts? That his omnipotence is stable and unthreatened by your curiosity? That he is not rolling his eyes and throwing the Bible at you, wondering why you’re just not getting it?
Or do you consider your own question risky or dangerous? Are you more concerned about division and slippery slopes than intimacy with your creator? Are you assuming that questions and trust are mutually exclusive? Or have you considered that sometimes pure trust means big questions, knowing the answers are most certainly out there, and lie at the heart of the One who desires real, raw communion with each one of us?
I have come to believe something with my entire heart, with conviction so strong that I now find it core to my spiritual practice, to how I relate to God, to how I view the world and my place in it:
Our unanswerable, most problematic questions matter to God, so we should ask them.
Our frightful, foundation-shattering doubts matter to God, so we should not dismiss them.
Our most significant, unsolvable fears matter to God, so we should express them.
I hope it brings you peace to hear this – you can release your questions, doubts, and fears from your white-knuckled fists. Even if they reveal the most uncertain parts of your soul, especially when they reveal the most uncertain parts of your soul, they are at home in God’s hands.
As with many of us, I believe, these thoughts and convictions have been swirling through my mind for a long time. If you’re looking to learn and reflect more, might I suggest, A Curious Faith by Lore Wilbert, which just came out. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m eager to begin.