Questioning the Text in a Healthy Manner

Faith is not the opposite of doubt.  The two go hand in hand.

For many of us who grew up in the church, it can be a little awkward questioning the things we read in the bible.  After all, we don’t want to be irreverent.  We believe that God spoke to his people through his written word, and we trust that is how he most often speaks to us today.  If we question anything in the text, it can seem tantamount to questioning the authority of the text.  This is simply not the case.  Throughout the text itself we encounter people who questioned God’s word to them.  What’s important to note is that their questioning/doubting drew them closer to Father.  In order to question appropriately we must be clear that what we question is our understanding of God, not God himself.  In order to do this, we must be honest about our presuppositions and the things we do know about God.  I am going to lay out a few of my own personal presuppositions (these are not official stances of our church…yet).  I had a seminary professor that would say when we pressed him for his position on controversial issues, “This is where I stand today, but my feet are not in cement.”  Part of being a Christ-follower is being a listener and a learner.  As we grow, he reveals more about himself to us and we may see things differently tomorrow.  Our understanding changes about the Unchanging One.  So here is where I start:

  • Jesus is the exact representation of God. Hebrews 1:3 “This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words!”
    Everything for me is seen through the lens of the life of Jesus.  With Jesus, we get a closer to perfect understanding of God.  That said, everything I read in the bible is filtered through what we saw in Jesus.  If I view God as vengeful in the Old Testament, but see Jesus absent of vengeance, then guess what?  My view of God as vengeful was a distortion.  I was missing something.  Jesus came to show us the Father and in so doing, corrected many of our misconceptions of God.
  • I don’t have to like what I read in order to trust God. Matthew 26:39 “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”
    No doubt that Abraham didn’t like what he heard when God told him to leave and go to a land he would show him.  No doubt Joseph didn’t like God sending him to Egypt as a slave, or sitting in a jail cell for something he didn’t do.  No doubt Moses didn’t like it when God told him he would not set foot in the Promised Land.  No doubt that Joshua didn’t exactly like it when God told him to go in and take cities that had much larger and much meaner armies than he had.  Jesus is my foundational expression of this.  He did not want to go to the cross, but he trusted his Father.  I read passages that I don’t like, passages that I don’t get, but I trust Father.
  • The same God who sent his Son to die for me, is the same God who I read about in the Old Testament and the same God my kids pray to at night before bed.  Hebrews 13:8 “For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.”
    My beliefs are like a set of concentric circles and Jesus is at the center.  No matter what everything in my life gets interpreted through him.  He never changes.  He never wavers or shifts.  Jesus is Jesus now, was Jesus then and will be Jesus tomorrow.
  • I believe the bible is the Word of God and has the right to command my belief and action.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”
    Next ring out is my understanding of the Scriptures.  I believe the Bible was written by people guided by God’s Spirit and affirm what it says about itself: authoritative, inspired, illumined by the Spirit and useful for teaching, correcting, and wisdom (Psalm 119.105-112; John 16.12-14; 17.17; 2 Timothy 3.16-17).
  • God knows what he is doing and has a plan for me that is good.  Jeremiah 29:11 “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
    This was true for Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and is true for you and for me. I can trust this.

The next ring is the historical doctrines of the church.  And the outer ring is what others are saying, writing and teaching.  At any point in the process that an outer ring violates an inner ring, I have to check myself. 

These are just five of my most bedrock beliefs.  Beliefs that affect the way I read everything, whether it’s a difficult story about a God who wipes out the face of the earth, calls a father to sacrifice his son, or wipes out cities of men, women and children.  My faith is not a house of cards where if one story doesn’t make sense the whole thing comes tumbling down.  If something I hear you say doesn’t jive with what I see as clearly taught in the bible, then I’m sorry, but I go with the bible.  If something I read in the bible doesn’t align with what I see to be true in the life of Jesus, then I have misunderstood something because Jesus wins.  I hope this is beneficial to you.  I want us to question, I want us to wrestle, but at the end of the day what’s most important is who you will trust.
I have gotten some good questions from several of you and will begin posting on those questions next.  I will take one question per post and let you comment on each one.  Are you ready?  It’s going to be fun.

4 thoughts on “Questioning the Text in a Healthy Manner

  1. Brad – this approach is really good feedback and a great “check-point” to not let our lower story, human minds get things discombobultaed. In my own simple minded way, letting Jesus be the filter helps me to see things clearer and takes away the confusion factor. God sent Him to make our burdens light and this is one more way He does it. Has anyone ever had a supposedly “mean” aunt or uncle / relative? Yet one of your other relatives that knows the “mean” one, tells you that, he/she is not really like that “once you get to know them” – but if you stay of the perimeter of knowing them , you just always see them as “mean”. You get older and wiser and one day get to know them for yourself and find out they are actually the coolest ones in the family. That’s how I kindof see the aspect of questioning God through Jesus.

    (By the way, one of my “crazy” uncles was like ….really crazy, for real.)

  2. Well, you can’t say I don’t read the blog cause I read this one twice. I have to say that emailing you my questions the other night felt like a truly risky venture. I had always been satisfied with the Sunday School versions of these stories and had avoided the questions that came to mind as I got older and finally realized there was a destroyed population below that rainbow, etc. It does feel irreverent to me. Even as I see some of my thoughts referenced in here, I feel ashamed for even thinking it. But, I am seeing what you’re saying about the struggles bringing you closer to God. As I force myself to look at my questions head on and put them into words, I’m also giving myself an opportunity to get to know God on a deeper level. I’ve seen first hand that I don’t always like the hand that God gives me, but regardless of my questions and even my anger, He’s shown me over and over that my trust is in the right place.

    • Ashley, I totally feel your issues. It really might be easier to just “believe” without ever really looking or wrestling, but is that really belief? You should never feel ashamed because by being honest, you are giving God the opportunity to work in you and breath life into you in ways that might just get covered up when following the company line. A “yes” without questioning can just be superficial, but a “yes” after questioning/wrestling/doubting produces real faith. Keep pressing on my friend.

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