Humans question things all the time, but why? What’s a question and how does it work? Beyond that, makes a question good? Are there bad questions? Should I question everything? Who says? Is there ever a time to stop questioning? When do you know you have an answer? Where is God in our questions? Is he prosecutor, witness, defendant? Are all questions ‘doubts’? Are all doubts bad? Where does faith come into our questions? What would it look like to make questioning a habit, a lifestyle, a disposition, a formative discipline?
Finally, where can I find a book about all of these questions? Who would take the time to write such a thing? Until recently I wouldn’t have had an answer for those last two. Thankfully, Matthew Lee Anderson, lead writer over at Mere Orthodoxy, published his wonderfully querulous little book, The End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith, taking up all these questions and more. (Disclosure: I write for Anderson occasionally at Mere Orthodoxy so that tips my hand a bit.)
Now, I had the misfortune of receiving my review copy after taking off on a vacation and so I was unable to get a head start on reading it. It turns out I needed it. Exploring Anderson’s little treatise takes time–or at least it should. Though small in size, its scope is wide as the world itself. Anderson writes in clear, literary-yet-uncluttered prose. Still, this book shouldn’t be skimmed. Written for general consumption, it’s a bit of a philosophical, or rather, Chestertonian, offering. Each sentence counts and every question matters. And yes, there are lots of questions. Difficult ones, I might add.
And yet, difficult questions are exactly what we need in our day. It seems that while everybody’s talking about questions, nobody’s really thinking about them. Anderson’s questions invite us to think, to stop and consider what we’re doing when we question. He asks us to consider a life of questioning as exploring–God, the world, and the labyrinthine maze of our own hearts. Questions, when properly asked, are a search, a wondering reaction to an encounter with reality, and a thirst to know the world and the God who has formed it. As such, they fit quite well in the life of the Christian disciple.
Instead of giving a blow-by-blow breakdown of the whole work, I’d like to simply highlight three particularly helpful questions Anderson asks and answers for us. (And yes, thankfully he does do quite a bit of answering as well).
Are All of My Questions Good? In a surprising move for a man writing a book about the good of questioning, Anderson challenges his readers early on (chapter 2) to question their questions. As he notes, the first question in the Scriptures is “not God’s and it is not good.” Just as the serpent deceived our parents in the Garden with his oh-so-clever questions about God, so our own hearts may deceive us by picturing a world, and a God, quite different from the LORD God who created and sustains us. We may think we’re “simply asking” a few questions, but questions are never neutral. Vulnerably revealing his own history of questioning, Anderson knows that at times we may be innocent enough, honestly searching for truth and a deeper knowledge of God’s truth. We also might begin from prejudiced premises leading to a skewed answer, or question from a heart bent on self-justification and sin. Anderson wants us to remember at these times that God is allowed to question our questions, trusting that, just as with Adam in the Garden, God’s queries search us out (“Where are you?”), in all of our sin and misery, for the sake of restored relationship.
What About Doubt? In the very next chapter (3), Anderson addresses our generation’s romanticization of the heroic “virtue of doubt,” stemming from over-reaction to the uncritical, un-reflective faith they were taught. He does so by clearly distinguishing, as most don’t, the difference between questioning and doubting. Questioning is an action, an activity, but doubt is spoken of as a state, a condition of “vacillating double-mindedness.” While often the two are connected, they are not always bound together. Faith ought to eventually lead to questions, yet it need not always pass through doubt in order to be considered authentic. What’s more, while doubt is understood, accounted and allowed for, forgiven even, it is never enjoined or commended in Scripture. Gently acknowledging our inevitable seasons of weakness, Anderson shows us that is not doubt that gives us strength in the storm, in the face of the lion, or in the midst of a tragedy, but deep-rooted faith in our trustworthy God. In fact, faith is the ground on which we stand to confidently question, assured that no matter the answer, Christ has us firmly in hand. No, doubt is not what we need to question well, but faith.
Where Should I Question? Pushing back on the endemic individualism North Americans tend to bring to their ‘spirituality’, in chapter 7 Anderson encourages us to pursue our questions in “communities of inquiry”, especially the local church. Too often we see our inquiries as a lone-ranger affair, with no place for the body of faith. Instead, Anderson demonstrates the benefits of asking questions along with others, seeking to serve others in our questions, rather than simply pursuing our own quest for satisfaction. There is also benefit in learning from the questions of others, both living and through the tradition of the church, of another age. In a section I found particularly helpful as a minister, he offers wisdom for how those in authority can cultivate an attitude of truth-seeking questioning, not as a foe, but as a function of deep faith in God’s Word. Probably more poignantly, he invites questioners of all sorts to have grace towards a church that has not often served them well, but has often-times cut them off out of fear or defensiveness. Anderson pleads here as one who sympathizes, but nonetheless holds firm to God’s promise to work through the Church, not only despite it. It truly is the community where we are invited to question and yet remember that there is more to the Christian life beyond our questions–in a word, worship of the King who calls us together.
Who Should Read It? The final question for us, then, is who should read this? It would be easy for me to say everybody, so I will. Everybody should read this book. But more specifically, there are a few people who would particularly benefit from this:
- Those With Questions - First, and foremost, Anderson writes to those with questions, and it is they who ought to read this work. If you’ve got doubts, questions, fears, struggles, and have been sore tempted and tried, take up this book. Again, Anderson writes as one who loves a good question and won’t shut you down for asking. He has navigated the shoals and rough waters without, and knows the turmoil that can rage from within. If you need a guide–and all of us do–buy the book.
- Those With Answers - Second, many of us don’t have very many questions because we think we’ve already got the answers. You might need this book even more. Even if only to understand your friends who do, those who don’t struggle, don’t question or inquire much would do well to pick up this book.
- Those Who Pastor Both - I especially commend this book to pastors and elders charged with keeping charge over God’s flock. Instead of being the person who quickly supplies all the right answers, I’ve been challenged to think more deeply about asking the right questions of my students–both to those who question everything and those who think they’ve got it all figured out. Yes, we are to preach the Word with authority, and yet, our preaching should shape our people into questioners, inquirers who seek to understand the truths which we proclaim. If you’re in college ministry, this isn’t even debatable–get multiple copies.
To sum up, Christians look to the day when we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but until that day we will question. In The End Of Our Exploring Anderson urges us to continue to question with humble confidence, trusting that we are already fully known by Him, which is far more important.
Final Note: Click HERE for a special offer to buy one hard copy and get an e-copy free to give away to a friend.