Questions You Can Never Ask In Church

There is a Yiddish saying that is familiar to many: “One doesn’t die from asking a question.” This expression is a pithy way to explain to someone who has questions that having a question — or many — is no big deal.

As one gets older and wiser, he has a broader perspective and realizes that questions are a part of life and that we make choices despite questions all the time.

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I had coffee after work with a couple of guys yesterday. That’s actually kind of unusual for me since I don’t socialize very often, but this was a somewhat unusual situation. Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile know that one of my “issues” is my lack of fellowship with like-minded believers. You have probably read my discussion about why I don’t go to church. These two fellows are more or less in the same boat as I am. We are all believers, but through one process or another, we find ourselves without a congregation to which we can belong. Maybe we’re too independent or idiosyncratic or something.

So over coffee at Moxie Java, we discussed why we were meeting in the first place. We hadn’t brought our Bibles and we didn’t have a specific plan or agenda for our meeting. The most we had settled on before getting together yesterday was that we wanted to have a meeting and talk. But what about?

We came up with a number of reasons why we were more alike than unalike, and why we don’t seem to fit into a traditional church setting. One of the reasons was that we ask a lot of questions.

You might not think this is a big deal, but I know from my own experience that it’s not a good idea to ask a lot of questions in church, or at least, you shouldn’t ask questions that don’t have canned, pre-programmed, Christian answers. But we were discussing things like the Deity (or lack thereof) of Jesus and whether or not there really is a Trinity, and whether the third Temple would be a real, physical structure built by men (I think so, but someone else didn’t) or something more “spiritual.” These are questions that would probably raise a few eyebrows if you discussed them in adult Sunday school after services. They might even get you quickly escorted to the door by a couple of ushers with a strong “suggestion” never to return.

That’s the difference between how I see Christianity and Judaism. Christianity is about always having the right answers and only asking questions that map to those answers. Judaism is about always asking all kinds of questions and then struggling with the answers, maybe coming up with half a dozen possible responses, and then arguing all of them around back and forth. There’s no sin in wondering exactly what makes Jesus divine and what his relationship is with “God the Father,” but you might not get that feeling if you asked those kind of questions in a church.

But if you don’t ask questions, then you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, then your relationship with God drops into a deadend rut and never goes anywhere for years and years.

The rebellious child who questions everything sits in a place beyond the one who has nothing to ask.

If the rebellious child questions, it is because it touches him, it says something to him. Perhaps it even bothers him.

But a perfectly capable human being who has no questions about Torah and G-d — he is stuck in his place. Perhaps he is a good religious Jew who does good deeds and never sins. But there is no sense of the spirit, of the meaning of life, of transcendence.

He is stuck in Egypt and knows of nothing higher.

—at the second Seder, 1965

Chronicled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Inquisitively Challenged”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I was discussing this matter with a Pastor on his blog the other day, and his response was that the issue wasn’t Christianity vs. Judaism, but west vs. east. He said that the eastern churches tended to very much encourage question asking and wrestling over difficult issues. The western church tends to be more “goal-oriented” and likes conclusions rather than conundrums. That may well be true. I don’t know. I do know that the traditional Yeshiva model of learning is to argue opposing positions and “posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes.” (from the lyrics to If I Were a Rich Man)

broken-crossSo there we were, three guys sitting around drinking mediocre coffee and occasionally having our conversation being drowned out by the latte machine, asking questions, posing problems, and generally discussing matters that would “cross a Pastor’s eyes.”

But it felt good.

Part of getting close to God is meditating upon Him and His awesome, mighty works and wonders. Part of getting close to God is prayer. Part of getting close to God is reading the Bible and studying the Torah commentaries of the ancient Jewish sages.

And part of knowing God is getting together with a few other guys in a coffee shop in southwestern Idaho and talking about Him, asking all the questions we can’t ask other people, and hoping we get at a few answers, or better yet, a few more questions, that surprise and challenge us.

Because if we can’t find a way to get closer to Him, we’ll always be too far away.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. –Psalm 73:25-28 (ESV)

We’ll get together again next Thursday after work and see how it goes. Maybe, I’ll have a good question to ask. I hope no one comes up with just one answer.

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9 thoughts on “Questions You Can Never Ask In Church”

  1. James, the great majority of the church cannot answer your questions simply because they don’t understand the complete picture and have not been listening to God properly to get that knowledge. Your questions about the Trinity and God’s new temple (New Jerusalem) have concrete answers that are completely understandable, but without the “technical” experience to understand reality and teaching coming directly from God, the world will continue to struggle and theorize indefinitely.

    I explain your first question about the deity of Jesus and how to understand the Holy Trinity, as well as “The Big Picture of Reality” in easy to understand concepts in my first book published in 2009. I just recently released most of it online, so please read if you’d like to understand the more “technical” things about God.
    Chapter 1: http://3rdcompass.com/core/network?c=jrnl&obj=6470246696424325096

    I can also help answer your question about God’s new temple because of my experience in following God directly through guidance from His Spirit. This is something very important that you, the church, the Jews, and the whole world, really, are overlooking, because we as limited beings cannot fully comprehend the whole picture. Everyone keeps discussing these things amongst themselves and theorizing, but that approach won’t lead to the correct answers for the same reason science cannot reach the right answers about the truth of God and His Creation – they don’t have or are ignoring all the relevant pieces of information.

    God has all the information and sees the complete picture, so we must rely on Him and use His mind to interpret all things. That’s what I had to learn how to do the last few years, because like you, I question and question, but I didn’t realize before that the way I was getting answers was giving the wrong answers because of what I stated above – not having all the information and using our own limited understanding to draw conclusions.

    We all must rely more completely and directly on God to understand our reality and destiny. This doesn’t happen simply by reading, discussing and theorizing, as I noted. We have to learn God’s ways, which changed since Jesus came over two thousand years ago. Following direction from God through His Spirit is essential to coming close to Him, but this is not an automatic thing. The proper way must be learned, but the church, Jews and world have been assuming they know the correct way to understand God when they haven’t.

    Some people say I’m presumptuous, even arrogant, to state that, but they wouldn’t say that if they knew how I learned the truth. It didn’t happen overnight. Part of my personal story is also in the book. It will help you understand where I’m coming from.

    Ty

  2. I don’t know if I agree with the Pastor comments, about it being an issue of east vs. west. I have experienced the same reactions to questions about weighty topics, whether I ask them in a church in British Columbia or a church east of the Rockies like Calgary or Toronto.

    One question most of us like yourself James ask at least once at some point in our faithwalk, is regarding whether there really is a Trinity. Since I became a believer I am hesitant to accept, terms used by the creeds of denominations and the formulas used by teachers, scholars, pastors or believers that venture beyond the pale of scripture, to define what they call the nature or essence of the Deity. When I consider the sacred texts of all the various historical and present day religions, only one of them stands out as having numerous examples of exchanges where the deity communes with humankind directly. On numerous occasions the Creator/Deity imparts certain attributes and elements of itself it deems necessary for us to know and comprehend. On many other occasions the Deity warns us not to speak of those things which it has not declared.

    From purely a historical standpoint I think caution is due, when one considers that those who first formulated the doctrine of the Trinity, were violently anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish, such as Tertullian author of the infamous diatribe Adversus Judaeos (Against the Jews). Consider those who followed inserted this doctrine into ecclesiastical law, using it to justify state sanctioned prosecution, confiscation of goods and murder of those and their families who opposed it.

    Even today on many occasions, because I refuse to define G-d outside the pale of Scripture (even though I do not deny the deity of Yeshua I refuse to subscribe to the man made term G-d the Son) , beyond terminology He or His confirmed servants use (language and terminology that was available to them), my salvation is disputed and I am called a heretic.

    My faithwalk has also been lacking in the area of fellowship over the last 20 years, and I personally consider you to be blessed James, having 2 fellows you can sit down for coffee with and discuss biblical topics with.

    Shalom,

    Brad

  3. Thanks for the replies, everyone.

    Tyler, while I agree that, from God’s perspective, all of the questions that puzzle we mere morals do indeed have answers in an absolute realm, I’m not convinced that “concrete” answers are always available to us in our human realm. Whenever I encounter a person who says that they have the absolute answer to everything that the rest of us can only guess at (and that includes extremely learned scholars and holy people who have wrestled with these conundrums for over 2,000 years), I admit to be sceptical. I don’t believe one human being can possess all of the answers about everything and that only their answers are right. I’m much more likely to listen to a person who says that they don’t know for sure but they have some thoughts on the matter than a person who presents “concrete answers” from their own intelligence.

    Pat, I’m sure many in the church would consider me arrogant to question the doctrine of the Trinity since, from their point of view, it’s a “done deal.”

    Brad, I agree that all matters of investigation in these matters should be approached with caution, and even when something sounds good and right, we should take it back to scripture and to learned interpretation and examine it more closely. That said, the major point of this missive is that it can sometimes be better just to operate in an environment where questions are tolerated and even welcomed, than one in which everyone is sure of the answers and questioners are viewed with suspicion.

  4. Brad,
    About the comment of east vs. west, that pastor wasn’t talking about just Canada. It’s more global as in Asian vs. European worldviews, historically, about Eastern Orthodoxy vs. Western Catholicism/Protestantism. I have been looking into the differences recently, and while I don’t know as the Orthodox church encourages questions, their beliefs and views are surprisingly different than the Catholics or Protestants, and the Jewish origins of many Orthodox practices are much more recognizable (and defended from the OT as much as the NT!). Even though they have been altered and adapted to Gentile preferences, they were not discarded outright as the Catholics did.
    Just my 2c.
    Sherri

  5. Brad, there is firm support for the Trinity and the term God the Son in Scripture. You cannot draw conclusions by a cursory glance at it. Another important thing to note is that translation of the original Words in Hebrew and Greek affects our understanding of Scripture. The Trinity is not just supported by Scripture using God, Jesus Christ and His Spirit as interchangeable and equal persons, but also by God’s use of personal pronouns referring to Himself in both the singular and plural forms. This important clue to the truth of the Holy Trinity is totally lost by translation.

    Another important thing to consider is trusting too much in people’s interpretation of Scripture, even ancient interpretations and those made by scholars. I just stated the mere act of translation affects our understanding of what God really means in His Words. The wrong interpretations of Scripture too, inevitably leads to the wrong ideas of what the truth really is. The issues of correct interpretation go deep, which is why I said it is important to get God’s interpretation from His mind, instead of our own reasoning.

    James, that is a very very important point I’ve been trying to make. The truth cannot be understood with our own reasoning – not mine, or any other group of people – but by God alone. I never claimed to have all the answers and I am not alone in having been taught the more detailed truth.

    We were told the truth through God’s spiritual guidance over many years of experiences. We would have never drawn the conclusions God showed us by ourselves because of everything I already stated – our limited knowledge and perspectives. The church has assumed she can understand everything by her own interpretation of Scripture and His live guidance today, but we cannot understand God using our interpretations. We must get it from God directly.

    But again, the church and world do not understand how God teaches and reveals today. We had to learn through years of experience to do it right (how to read Scripture and interpret His live Spoken Word). That is why I stated it sounds presumptuous to say what I do, but you do not understand how we’ve been taught to know the truth.

    The absolute true answers are available to us now, but they can only come from God directly. I’ve learned much of the deeper truths these past years, but like I said, I don’t know everything. We only know what God reveals and that is what I try to teach. Most people are very resistant to this, I know. I was one until God kept giving me the details to support everything. God’s fingerprint is in the guidance He gave us on the things we teach – what God calls Brideship. That becomes apparent when you look at our evidence because only God can weave so many people, events, spiritual guidance, and the physical world to align and tell a message. You can see how real destiny is in it all. It changed me completely to trust fully in God and not man’s interpretations.

    Ty

  6. Indeed James,
    “it can sometimes be better just to operate in an environment where questions are tolerated and even welcomed, than one in which everyone is sure of the answers and questioners are viewed with suspicion”. I completely agree, it is more accommodating than an environment where one is rebuffed with a preconceived inference that they have only looked at the topic in a cursory fashion. Wouldn’t you concur Ty?

    Sherri, I was being tongue in cheek…

    Shalom,
    Brad

    1. Brad, certainly. Don’t misunderstand that I don’t support an environment of questioning. I’ve had my good share of closed-minded debate. The problem I’m highlighting is how to get the correct answers. There are so many reasons why we cannot get the right answers by talking amongst ourselves. I was given years of experiences to understand these reasons and why we can only trust the true and unskewed answers to come directly from God. Like I said, I had to learn over the past few years to get the direct answers from God. It is not easy or automatic, which is another reason why the church and world are in error. They assume we can arrive at the correct answers only from using our own reasoning, but remember, that is also why the scientific/atheist world assumes they are correct. They left God’s wisdom completely out of the equation, but the church, Jews, and other religious communities haven’t realized that they also don’t have all the necessary knowledge and logic they need to understand the complete picture. They’ve left God out of their discussions, not the information He gave in Scripture, but His live input. Ignoring that leads the church and other religious communities to the same errors of reasoning that the secular world falls to. We have to put God COMPLETELY into our discussions. He is as real and active now as He ever was, but most people don’t understand how to truly bring Him into our lives and let Him guide us in real-time.

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