“We value questions as much as answers.”
My church’s Welcome Statement includes this sentence. This summer, we tested whether we really mean it. Turns out we do.
Throughout July, our pastor Patrick Heery abandoned his usual sermon format, and instead used the sermon time in worship for a series called “Stump the Pastor.” He encouraged us to ask questions about faith, religion, and what we believe (or don’t believe).
The questions started to pour in.
What is sin?
Who or what is the Holy Spirit?
Is Christianity the one true faith?
Does prayer really do anything?
Every question brought more! As we worshiped on Facebook Live, the comments section was abuzz with more inquiries and follow ups, all of which Pastor Patrick attempted to answer within a self-imposed 2-minute time limit. The conversations continued throughout the week on Facebook.
Our church has always been open to honest struggling with faith, but not all churches are. I grew up in a church which was pretty dogmatic in matters of theology. It was a church full of lovely, loving people, but there wasn’t much room for diverse theological thought.
I remember when I first started to question what I believed. I was a teenager in the late 60s/early 70s, the years of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.” I remember looking at Christianity with new eyes. I also remember the fear and guilt I felt at questioning what I’d always been taught.
But once I started, I couldn’t stop! In high school and college, years when many people explore new ways of thinking, I allowed myself to broaden my understanding of God, and I began to see the holes in narrow theology and the inconsistencies in the Bible. I didn’t stop attending church, but I did find churches that embraced curiosity, exploration, and doubts.
I joined Westminster when I moved to Auburn in 1980, and one of the things that attracted me to the church was that it was filled with bright, curious, thoughtful people. The educational programs for children and adults were stimulating and lively. We were encouraged to explore how God is at work in our lives. We studied the Bible’s historical context, and considered how its times and therefore its understandings differed from today. We read works from a wide variety of contemplative scholars. I taught Sunday School from preschool to teens for many years, and I’m sure I learned more as the teacher than the kids did from me. Children ask lots of questions, and that’s certainly what having “childlike faith” means! I even led Adult Ed, and I loved the free-wheeling conversations we had.
I’m 65 years old now, and you’d think that after decades of asking questions, I’d have some answers by now. But I don’t. The only thing I’m sure of is that I as a mere mortal cannot comprehend what is greater than our limited minds can fathom. My understanding of God will always be short of any absolute truths. I can see glimpses of God, and I do all the time, in people, in nature, in music, and in solitude. There are what the Celts call “thin places” where God’s presence seems near, and I’ve experienced them at births, at deaths, by the water or in the woods, or in sacred places which can be anywhere.
I doubt that I will ever be able to articulate what I believe. Religions are human constructs that attempt to define the undefinable. Greater minds than mine have tried to describe how God touches our lives and interacts with humankind. I am a Christian because I see God revealed in Jesus Christ. I understand the Holy Spirit as the very breath that makes us be alive. I know God the Creator as the force who is greater than our understanding.
One of my favorite writers is Anne Lamott, who has written many books and essays on her struggles with faith. She says, "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and the discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns."
So yes, we value questions as much as answers. Faith evolves through doubt, skepticism, and curiosity. Don't be afraid to lean into the mystery. You might not find answers but you may find truth.