Young children are always asking questions. It’s endearing when they ask, “Mommy, why is the sky blue?” Or, “Daddy, why do the birds fly south for winter?” And every parent has indulged their child when the little one plays the game by asking, “Why, why, why” for every answer given. It can be cute, until it’s not. So, what’s the best way to question God and others?
When “Why” is a Defiant Question
When teenagers ask, “Why?” there’s often a different spirit to it. Instead of curiosity, this question often represents defiance. As in, “Why do I have to be home by midnight?” Or, “Why can’t I just forge dad’s signature on my report card?” There’s nothing wrong with a healthy curiosity. In fact, good parents should encourage it. The question “Why?” has a note of challenge embedded within it.
When “Why” is a Criticizing Question
It gets even more problematic when the questioner asks someone, “Why did you do such and such?” It may have been motivated by curiosity but comes across wrong. Immediately, the other person is put on guard, feeling like they have to defend their actions. Or, “Why don’t you just do this or that?” This sounds like a suggestion to the one who is forming the question. But to the one who receives it, it sounds like a criticism. Sometimes the question “Why?” comes across as more challenging than you intend.
What’s the Best Way to Question God and Others?
When the question “Why?” becomes a problem, maybe it’s better to try out the other five question words. Let’s use the scenario of the teenager trying to understand the midnight curfew. Instead of asking why, which comes across as a challenge, it might be better to ask:
- Who should I call and inform that I’m going to be late? Does who I’m out with determine my curfew time?
- What should I do if something unexpected comes up? What should I do if I’m too tired to drive home?
- When should I leave the party to get home on time? When I get home, will you be up waiting for me?
- Where did you hide the spare key to the house? Where should I stop for gas on the way home?
- How can I make sure I get home on time if I’m not the one driving? How many minutes late can I be, without getting in trouble?
By using “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How” questions, you show inquisitiveness. This is so much different than the challenge expressed when a person asks, “Why?”
Questioning Other People
This is good for relationships with other people. For example, when you suggest that your spouse download an app so you can track their location at any time, and they say, “No.” You might be tempted to ask, “Why?” This could come across as a challenge–as if there’s mistrust behind your question. Like you are accusing them of going places they shouldn’t go. But, if instead of asking, “Why?” you ask “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where” and “How” questions, it comes across as less of a challenge.
For example, you might ask:
- Who would you be concerned about, that might misuse the tracking information?
- What is it that you dislike about an app like this?
- When, or on what occasions, do you think an app like this could be helpful?
- Where might you go, that you wouldn’t want anyone to know about?
- How would you like to download an app so you could track me, as well?
Asking a “Why” question sounds like you are saying, “You had better explain yourself to me.” You can see from the suggestions above how the other question words seem less challenging. But, you can also tell from the “Where” question above, that just because you use question words other than “Why,” this doesn’t mean you have avoided a challenge. It’s best to be cautious. Take care in your relationships, no matter what question words you use. But, if you’re going to ask a question, avoiding “Why” questions can be one step in the right direction.
Many of us were taught as children not to question God. I have moved far beyond that stage in my life. Deconstruction is all about questioning God, and seeking answers to even the deepest questions. I’ve learned that it’s okay even to challenge God. If Jacob wrestled with God, and God honored him for it, then the Almighty certainly doesn’t mind my questions. But, perhaps, some question words are better than others.
Asking “Why” can sometimes be a bit shallow. If you ask the other five question words, you will usually find out “Why.” For example, instead of asking why there are so many sexuality laws in the Hebrew Scriptures, you might ask:
- Who gains or loses power because of these laws? Who, if anyone, should be dominant or submissive in sexual/intimate relationships?
- What was happening in that society and time, which made these laws necessary? What is different about my society today?
- Under these laws, when does a woman ever have sexual autonomy or agency? If I’m under all these laws, when is the right age for me to marry, if at all?
- Where do male biblical lawgivers get the right to make laws governing women’s bodies? Since laws vary from place to place, does where I live determine sexual morality and ethics?
- How would it make me feel to live under all of the sexuality laws in the Hebrew scripture? How can I live up to all these expectations?
These are much better questions. “Why?” asks another person, or asks God, to explain something to you.” The other question words invite you to investigate for yourself. If you follow your nose to learn “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “How,” you’ll find the “Why.”
When people tell you not to question God, they usually mean, “Don’t question me.” They have a particular interpretation of the Bible that they don’t want you to challenge. When you challenge their understanding of the Bible, you contest their authority over you. If a person can keep you from questioning, they can keep you from learning. And an unlearned person is easy to control. So, keep questioning—but ask better questions!
To read more about questioning God, read my articles:
“Wrestling with God Builds Spiritual Muscle.”
“Was Blind, But Now I See: Deconstruction and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave”