faq

Picking up a thought from yesterday’s bloggage got me wondering whether we ask the wrong questions and then are surprised and disappointed at the answers we get. Yesterday one of the questions that I suggested is thrown up by the apostle Paul pleading in vain for God to take away the “thorn in his flesh” was ‘why didn’t God take it away?’ It’s a frequently asked question about suffering and unanswered prayer.

pexels-photo-221164.jpegBut it’s a question that can lead to all sorts of unsatisfying answers (I don’t subscribe to any of the following answers, by the way). Some might suggest that God wanted to teach Paul something through his suffering. What sort of capricious God would want someone to remain in pain simply to learn a lesson? Others might suggest that Paul didn’t have enough faith when he prayed. But Jesus debunked that myth when he said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains. (For me the mustard seed measure of faith equates to ‘as much as it takes for us to pray). Others may say that Paul did not pray enough times – he only pleaded three times. But is God really the sort of being who needs lots of prayers before he responds – like a slot machine that asks for more coins before it dispenses a bar of chocolate?

Is it the wrong question because it leads to unhelpful answers?

What if the right question looks at things from a different perspective: ‘why does God intervene in answer to prayers?’ You see when we look at Jesus in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles) we see that (especially in John’s gospel) these are ‘signs’. They point us towards something significant:  they reveal who Jesus is; they help us understand something about human nature; they help us realise that God’s kingdom is much bigger than we could ever imagine; and they help us face our own internal prejudices.

So could it be that when God intervenes in answer to our prayers we should be asking ourselves why he did rather than focusing on the times when it appears that he doesn’t*? What does he want us to recognise, realise or learn because of his intervention? What difference would it make to our faith if instead of asking “why not?” when God appears not to have responded* we ask “why?” when he does?

*I would also want to challenge the notion that God hasn’t responded when he doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we want. Given that we are talking about a relationship with a God who says he is love, isn’t it fair to expect that he will answer – but perhaps we are looking for the wrong answer. Jesus gave us a hint about this when he was teaching about prayer (including giving his famous pattern for praying we know as The Lord’s Prayer):

11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

So when we pray we know that God wants to respond in the best way for us. When we pray we pray “your will be done” and seek to align ourselves with that rather than “my will be done” and try to convince God to agree with us. When we pray we should be asking for him to give us the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual resources and gifts we need to become the person God created us to be, and to be able to listen to God’s answers. When we pray we should be seeking answers to the right questions.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the minimum age

We put age limits on a number of different activities and behaviours in order to protect children and in recognition of their relative immaturity to cope with what are essentially adult activities. There is a minimum age, for example, for smoking, drinking alcoholic drinks, sex and even voting. there will be questions about whether the ages are correct but I’ve not really heard many people suggesting that they should not be minimum ages for a range of different activities. I would like to add to that list a minimum age for children to be able to ask their parents any question beginning with the word, “why…”

Birthday Cake 2
Congratulations, you can now use the word ‘why’?

Eventually a child who persist in asking that question will end up with the following answer, “because it just is.” That is not a satisfactory answer but it is one that denotes the boundaries between the limits of parental tolerance and the beginnings of exasperation.

I’ve got a list of questions that I want to ask God. It’s a fairly long list and it is growing. A lot of the questions start with the word “why” and on the list are included:

Why aren’t there any easy answers to life’s tough questions?

Why do things go wrong?

Why did you let [insert terrible event here] happen?

Why do you make it so difficult for some people to encounter you?

Why haven’t you issued an upgrade to the Bible covering all of the contemporary issues that we face today which didn’t exist as issues in the day when the Bible was written?

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that there are answers to all of these questions. But some of them are very long and complex. Some of them take a lot of work to discover. And, if I’m completely honest, some of them are not completely satisfactory. some of them even seem to be the theological equivalent of, “because it just is…”

I firmly believe that God welcomes and indeed encourages us to question. He wants us to test the boundaries of our faith. He wants us to have a dialogue with him (in my experience often through the Bible) in which our understanding and experience of him is expanded. If we don’t ask questions and seek answers our understanding of God will be limited. It’s a frightening thought that some people’s understanding and knowledge of God is limited to what they hear through my sermons, for example. That is a poor substitute for the sort of dialogue that God wants us to have.

So what do we do with the questions that we have? Well for one thing I don’t think we should give up with them: if the answer is that we get is inadequate and incomplete then they there is more to come. I think we also need to recognise that sometimes our questioning is because of spiritual immaturity. We want to know answers that we are not ready to cope with. Sometimes our questioning is actually more an expression of pain and frustration than a desire for an answer that makes logical sense and we need to recognise that instead of an answer we want comfort and sympathy. Sometimes, and this is where we need to discern the difference between my first statement in this paragraph and this reality, our questioning is because we do not like the answer we have received.

Whatever questions we’ve got, God is big enough to take them. The reality is that sometimes we are not big enough to take the answers. Sometimes God has to give us answers that we can cope with and we need to recognise that later on he will give us more detailed answers, or we may have to wait to see him face-to-face and ask him. If you’re not sure about this, ask yourself how you would respond to a 2-year-old child who asks you why the sky is blue. Would you respond differently to a 16-year-old who asked you the same question?

Be blessed, be a blessing (and keep asking).