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Is it OK to Question God’s Word as a Christian?

Woman in hat overlooking a rainy sea, photo credit: Pixnio

[Originally published as Should Christians Question what the Bible Claims to be True?]

Have you ever heard of “growing pains”?

No, I’m not referring to the popular 80’s TV show starring none other than Christian pop-culture icon, Kirk Cameron.

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I’m referring to the aching and throbbing sensation you feel in your legs, usually during the highly developmental stages of life.

Although there’s no evidence that “growth” itself actually hurts,1 it seems that between “10% and 35% of children will have these pains at least once.”2 The truth is, we don’t really know the cause of growing pains, but the name remains because of correlative data from studies done in the 30’s and 40’s when medical science had not yet advanced to determine this.

This analogy, however, is quite instructive for the Christian life.

We grow as Christians. And often that growth is associated with pain. Sometimes that pain has to do with suffering and persecution for the cause of Christ. Sometimes the pain is having to let go of old friends and even family members who don’t accept your convictions.

Sometimes the pain cuts even deeper—an internal fear that your beliefs about God, Christ, the Bible, etc., aren’t even true

According to Karl Marx, religion was nothing more than the “opiate of the people”—or, a mere drug to mask the harsh reality that life has no purpose and ends with the grave. According to today’s modern evolutionary naturalist, religious belief (and the values it affords) are nothing more than illusory devices to help better cope with human existence so our species can survive and thrive.3

Allow me to rest on the laurels of C.S. Lewis who so appropriately claimed that

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

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Thus the question of whether or not what the Bible claims is true must be given consideration. Of course, I believe this to be case as argued here and here for example, but we’re asking a bit different question. Namely, should committed Christians feel free to question claims found in God’s Word?

Let me give you just three instructive considerations:

1. Truth-seekers always ask questions.

A natural part of understanding our world is asking questions. If we never do this, we never discover truth, regardless of what we believe.

How can we ask someone else to consider Christ if we’ve never considered him?

Many people have a false idea that “faith” is, as Mark Twain once quipped, “believing what you know ain’t so.” Of course, I don’t know of a single Christian who would admit that. But when pressed, many Christians would be hard-pressed to give a justification for their belief that lies beyond their personal experience.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an appeal to one’s primary experience of Christ. Indeed, this is how most Christians know and understand the reality of God. As Philosopher William Lane Craig often points out, this is also how individuals in the Bible knew God.

Still, one may have a hard time convincing others using only their personal experience.

I was guest-teaching a special series on apologetics in the adult Sunday School of my former church. The teacher began the introduction of the topic before bringing me up by asking if anyone was brave enough to tell how they’d respond if asked, “Why do you believe the Bible is true?”

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Only one young woman spoke up, and I commend her for it—though, I can’t say her answer wasn’t anticipated. She said, “I know God is real because of the peace I feel in my heart.”

Any true Christian could, I submit, say the very same thing. Her answer wasn’t wrong, and it’s certainly better than remaining silent! But when inquiring minds want to know why they should understand the Bible to be the revealed Word of God, often, they are looking for more than one’s subjective religious experience.

This was not lost on Christ. He reasoned and persuaded with those who challenged his truth claims, almost always directly from the Scriptures. Luke 24:13-35 records an excellent example of this, with Jesus speaking to two individuals on the road to Emmaus “[expounding] unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”

One should readily notice that even though his appeal is to Scripture (the Old Testament), he is no doubt carefully explaining how he is the fulfillment of the law, specific prophecies, etc. Jesus did not ask them to blindly accept his truth claims; rather, he gave them evidence based on prior revelation.

In the very same way we should be ready and prepared to answer the questions of others.

I’m not talking about pointless arguments with folks who want to demean and criticize. But someone who is genuinely interested in learning more about Christianity and has a softened heart towards it should be given the time of day.

Truth-seekers have questions, and Christians have answers. Why would we not be ready to give them?

2. Jesus’ closest followers expressed doubts.

Of course, the issue is not always the skeptics’ alleged intellectual hurdles that are at issue.

The Christian life is one often associated with grief, and if the Christian’s goal is to be like Christ, it seems obvious that grief will come.

Nevertheless, modern “triumphalist” Christianity has lead many into the false belief that if their material possessions have not multiplied as a result of following Christ, they either (1) lack faith or, more plausibly, (2) there’s really no God after all.

The only logical fruit of such belief systems is doubt.

How ought we guard against falling into this trap? Let me suggest two actions steps:

  1. Expect suffering and doubt by seeking to understand it biblically.
  2. Prepare for suffering and doubt ahead of time with study of the Word and other resources, and prayer.

Let’s look at each of these in turn, noting especially that suffering and doubt were not merely incidental, but rather, characteristic of those who lived, breathed, and walked with Jesus in the flesh.

First, expect suffering and doubt by seeking to understand it biblically.Man sitting on summit overlooking cloudy terrain, photo credit: Pxhere

The fundamental misunderstanding many professing Christians have of suffering suggests strongly that study of the Bible—even only occasionally—has largely gone out of practice.

One is rather hard-pressed to read sections of the Bible without finding God’s people experiencing some measure of turmoil, suffering, and pain. This is why I so appreciate J. Warner Wallace’s helpful reflection that he is not a Christian because it’s convenient, but because it’s true.

Strangers to the Bible whose only regular dose of teaching amounts to motivational speaking will undoubtedly have a skewed take on biblical suffering.

We have lots of anecdotes from Christ’s closest companions:

  • Peter’s false confidence led him to deny Christ three times.
  • Thomas’ doubt was indicative of our human tendency to lose hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
  • Out of the 12 Apostles, all but one of them died as a direct result of their belief in Christ as the Son of God,4 and the twelfth, John, was exiled to the Isle of Patmos.

Given the biblical evidence, could one rationally conclude that belief in Christ leads to a life of material prosperity, impeccable health, and convenience? I don’t see how. May God choose to bless us with those things? Absolutely. But such blessings are freely given because of God’s grace and in spite of our choice to follow him—not a result of it.

If it’s not enough that Christ’s closest followers suffered immensely for their beliefs, consider Christ himself—the God-man who freely gave his life for yours, and for mine. He was born among animals, and died among thieves. The record maintains that at least the animals had somewhere safe to sleep at night, unlike him (Luke 9:58).

Not exactly a picture of material glory.

Further, he claims that if one is to follow him, they must “pick up their cross” (Luke 9:23). He claims that in this world his followers will have tribulation (John 16:33), and they’ll even endure persecution that results directly from claiming his name (Matthew 10:22).

If you’re not understanding the connection between suffering and question-asking, remember that where there’s suffering, the question of “why” is always soon to follow. We see this in the Bible as well, notably in the cases of Job’s incomparable loss and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”

We have a natural intuition that something is deeply wrong with the world. It shouldn’t be this way. So when things are going alright, we’re usually just happy that’s the case! But when things go wrong, it triggers that longing in us for a better world. We ask, “for what purpose am I suffering?”

When that inevitable question arises in our heart, the genuine Christian with a robust biblical understanding of the truth of God and the reality of suffering will maintain his faith every time.

Second, prepare for suffering and doubt ahead of time with study of the Word and other resources, and prayer.

Hopefully this point does not require much expansion. It seems obvious to me that if we’re going to interact with God’s world as a follower of his, we must communicate with him. This is done by studying his Word (listening to him) and prayer (talking to him).

Of course, a supplemental exercise would be to read the works of others who have studied these issues carefully. This could include those who have written on the subject of suffering specifically, but also of those whose project is to simply make the case for Christianity.

Understanding the reasons why Christianity is true, regardless of the crashing waves of our immediate circumstances, helps to keep us grounded. We may not like a medical diagnosis, but whether we like it or not does nothing to take it away or lessen its blow.

There will be times when life as a Christian is encouraging and inspirational. And, bluntly, times when it will be dissatisfying, cold, and even painful. Asking questions of the Bible’s truth claims can only serve to strengthen our foundation whether we’re on the mountain or in the valley.

3. Questions do nothing to undermine Christianity.

This is an important point.

We have already noted that it is not improper to question the claims Christianity. To be clear, I’m not referring here to “standing in judgment” over God; rather, I’m referring to the natural reservations one might have when considering the kind of claims Christianity makes.

For some reason folks have a hard time with question-asking—and I’m not really sure why.

Does one questioning the truth claims of Christianity do anything to undermine it? I don’t see how. While it is true and biblical that the potter has all authority over the clay, it’s also true and biblical to understand what that looks like.

And the primary way one comes to a deeper understanding is by asking questions.

So the person who claims it’s improper to ask questions of God or Christianity has the burden of showing why that’s the case.

That said, there’s an important consideration one mustn’t miss.

If one is going to question the claims of the Christian worldview, one must assume (even if for the sake of argument) it’s truthfulness.5 Here’s an example:

Suppose you’re in conversation with an individual who asserts that the resurrection of Christ did not happen, simply because “resurrections don’t happen.” Well, of course. This is precisely what makes it miraculous!

The crucial assumption they are making is that Jesus merely rose from the dead. But the Christian’s claim is much different. Perhaps it’d be best expressed as God raised Jesus from the dead. After all, that’s what the Bible teaches.

Do you see the issue? One who argues that resurrections simply don’t happen has ruled out Jesus’ resurrection with no discussion of the evidence! This is a predisposition—not a conclusion.

So while it may be true that one can legitimately question Christianity, one could not stand in judgment over it’s claims by appeal to the assumptions of his own worldview. That won’t work.

Conclusion

As I’ve hopefully shown, there’s no reason to think Christianity cannot be examined and even questioned for consistency, etc. This is because of obvious facts we find from the Bible itself:

  • Truth-seekers ask questions,
  • Biblical authors wrote often of doubts (and even expressed their own),
  • and Question-asking does not undermine Christianity’s claims.

What to do with this information, then? Let me suggest two things:

  1. Let it inform your study. Ask you read through the biblical text, ask questions of it! Then, search for the answers. If the Bible is the coherent and beautiful book it claims to be—and it is—you will not be disappointed.
  2. Let it deepen your relationship with Christ. Take this opportunity to think of Christ as a friend with whom you may converse, rather than merely a Lord whom you must obey. He is the latter, to be sure; but he’s not that exclusively. He’s your friend. Express your doubts, fears, and concerns. He listens, and understands.

These beautiful truths will do more than illuminate your personal understanding. They will deepen your convictions and compel you to honor and glorify your Lord.

Steve Schramm

Written by Steve Schramm

Steve is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world. He trains Christians to become confident, passionate servants of Jesus, so they can grow in their walk with God and share their faith more persuasively. Enroll in Steve's FREE email course, The Battle for the Beginning, by going to steveschramm.com/battle.

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  1. Wonderful article. Mr. Schramm is obviously a great writer and a strong Christian man. I was very encouraged by his thoughts. Questions truly are good if they drive us to deeper study to understand God and His Word.

    “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

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