The other night during our family devotional, Claire asked a question that neither Keith nor I had an easy answer for. We had just started a new kids’ bible (I have this fetish of finding solid childrens’ bibles if anyone has suggestions. Some of them are absolute theological poo.). And we were reading the story of Adam & Eve, and at the end of the story, Claire asked us, “If God didn’t want them to eat from that tree, why did He put that tree in the garden?” Hmmmmm….How do you explain that to a 6 year-old?? (Or a 16 year-old? Or a 56 year-old?) Now Keith’s about to graduate from seminary and I’ll kick your butt in Bible Trivia any day of the week (bring it on!) , but that is not an easy question, people. I won’t bore you with our answer; that’s not the point. And get your own answer! But what I need to get off my chest here is how incredibly proud I was of my daughter at that moment–for thinking critically and for daring to ask one of the hard questions. She’s done it before, but this one was a biggie. I mean, that’s a really hard question! That question has gotten people in trouble, I’m sure. Lesser ones have gotten me in trouble anyway.
I think a lot of people are afraid of the hard questions, but above all, I think the “religious” people are afraid of them. I must confess, I didn’t learn to ask the hard questions in church. In fact, I would sadly say that I was perhaps quietly discouraged from asking them there. In high school, I had this crazy-awesome atheist teacher named Mr. McDowell who was legendary for picking on Christian students. He was AWESOME, to this day the best teacher I ever had. Urban legend was that he was a Sunday School teacher before he turned to the dark side. He asked the hard questions, some of them I absolutely could not even begin to answer as a teenager. I’ll never, ever forget his vivid word-picture of the Roman punishment of crucifixion; Mr. McDowell made me understand the price that Jesus paid for me, and I sat in his class with grateful tears in my eyes, just before he promptly snatched them up with the biting fact that thousands of people were crucified back then, and “so what?” if Jesus was too. Not an easy question for a 16 year-old, brand new Christian . I remember there being Christian adults, youth leaders in particular, who almost seemed to despise Mr. McDowell for how he tried to shake the Christians kids. But Mr. MacDowell did more for my faith than any of my Sunday School teachers. Rather than hide behind the easy “because He says so” answers, I started to ask the hard questions of God, not through a lens of contempt, but through one of faith. (That makes a whole lot of difference.) And over the years, the questions have just kept a’ comin’. My brain is a scary place. But when they come, I search out the Word of God, pray, read (a lot), and wait. Sometimes I find the answer I am hungry for. But I think more important even than that, I have also found the unshakable safe foundation called “because He says so.” Ironic, huh? Indeed, there are questions that we have to wait years to get answers for, aren’t there? (One of my all-time favorite book quotes–“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer them.” Name that book, smartie-pants friends!) And then there are the ones that we just won’t get answers for on this side of heaven. And you know what? I’ve become okay with that, even more than okay with it. But not from that place of generic complacency that plagues so many “religious folk.” You see, when I ask a question for which I can find no satisfying answer, I can just stretch out and rest on this bedrock: HE is much, much smarter than I am. And it certainly helps that I have become utterly convinced that He loves me and has my holiness and happiness in mind in His cosmic and daily dealings with me.
When Claire asked that very hard question, I practically jumped up and down with glee, in praise of her for the asking, then explained to her that there is no easy answer for that one, and encouraged her to keep asking those, because even when mom and dad don’t have the VBS-answers (and sometimes we won’t), there is Someone who does. And if she will dare to ask those questions of Him with a heart of faith, He will draw near to her and whisper His secrets in her ear, and rock her world as wonderfully as He has mine. (Thank you, Lord!)
It also makes me understand something suddenly. There have been times in my life when I asked those questions, and have been discouraged by church society for the asking. Was instead my Father in heaven feeling like I did when my precious Claire asked me an impossible question? (Inlove with her! Proud of her! Excited for her!) My eyes fill with tears and my heart with a daughter’s joy as I feel Him whisper that answer to me this morning…