It’s strange that for so many people, faith and religion have become about answers, certainties, and attempts to make this unpredictable world predictable. That was not the faith that Jesus lived or taught. On the contrary, Jesus loved questions and mystery and constantly invited people into a life beyond answers and certainties.
In our world of conspiracy theories, fake news, and religious attempts to shape society according to their own self-serving values and practices, a scientific embrace of questioning and following the evidence is not just wise. It is a spiritual practice that leads us into fuller and more authentic life.
So what questions have been out of bounds for you? What questions have you been keen to ask but haven’t? When have you withheld a question for fear of judgement? And when, in your life, has a question opened up a whole new world for you? When has a new question led you to a richer, deeper, and more meaningful life?
This week’s episode invites you to welcome questions – especially the ones you weren’t supposed to ask – and allow them to lead you into a life and spirituality that is filled with wonder, awe, and new possibilities.
When I was a teenager, I read a book by Christian author and musician, John Fischer. And the title of the book was this: ’True Christians Don’t Ask Why’, but the ‘Don’t ‘ was crossed out. It was a wonderful book and there was a chapter in there, I think the chapter was called ‘Question and Question Time’. And in that chapter, John Fischer described how few questions Jesus really answered and how many times when he was asked a question he responded with another question. I’m reminded that Richard Rohr mentions I think it was about 189 questions that Jesus is asked in the gospels. And he only answers 3.
Strange, in the light of this then, that faith has become about certainty and about answers—to everything. Even things that faith and the bible (and believers) may have no knowledge of. And yet how much damage is done by this certainty, this refusal to entertain important questions, or shift our perspectives when new information appears.
What if asking questions is actually one of our most important spiritual practices?
I remember when I was a very early Christian in my teens, and I was scratching, I think somewhere on my upper body. And I must have hit a nerve, I assume, because I felt a reaction in one of my legs, in my lower body. And I remember being so disrupted and nervous because of this, because suddenly I was thinking,’Oh my word, maybe there is some truth in the the Hindu belief in treatments like acupuncture and reflexology. And, of course, back then in my faith, I couldn’t possibly entertain that there could be truth in other religions. And so I put the question out of my mind, I refused to ask the question, or consider the possibility. Now looking back I wonder why I was so threatened? I wonder why I thought it was a problem, or why I had been told that it was a problem, to think that there might be truth in the ways of other religions or belief systems. Of course there’s truth in all of them. And acupuncture and reflexology can be wonderfully helpful therapies.
So, think for a moment: When, in your life, has a question opened up a whole new world for you? When has a new question led you to a richer, and deeper, and more meaningful life? I invite you to make some space this week to reflect on the questions that have changed your life and journal the impact they’ve had on you.
And in the light of that, when we think of these things, why wouldn’t we welcome questions?
So, how can we embrace questions more? How can we become more comfortable, more open to our questions? Here are some thoughts around that. Feel free to use them or not.
I think the first thing is to recognise that mystery is as important, maybe even more important, than knowing and certainty. Now I’m not saying that knowledge isn’t important. I’m just saying that we always need to hold it lightly. I talk a lot about entering mystery and embracing not-knowing and the ‘beginner’s mind’—to use a Buddhist phrase. But I do this because these things—mystery, questions—they are doorways to a deeper, richer, and more connected life. They set us free to learn and grow and explore. And they fill our lives with wonder and awe—which I really believe are essential ingredients to being fully alive.
Embracing questions, not knowing, and mystery doesn’t undermine our knowledge. They increase it. They expand it. And it deepens our experience of our world, of others, and even of ourselves. This is why I love the scientific method—it’s always questioning everything.
Which brings me to this wonderful quote from Albert Einstein:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries to comprehend only a little of this mystery every day.”
And so let’s recognise the wonder, the gift, of mystery.
The second thing is about recognising, as David Hayward—who is known as the Naked Pastor—says: questions are the answer. I think he has a book by that title. Questions are the answer. I’m also reminded of a line in a song from Christian musician Michael Card, where he says, “could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever could?” Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever could?
That’s why I really encourage you: never be afraid of questions. A faith that can’t handle questions isn’t really faith at all. It’s really a false certainty—which is really a true insecurity—pretending to be faith. I remember once getting to a place in my own spiritual journey where I realised that there were questions I’d been putting off, ignoring, and not allowing myself to ask. And then I realised that if my faith couldn’t handle my questions, then it was worthless. And so I began intentionally to bring my questions into my spiritual journey. And I’m so glad I did. Because those questions freed me and my life, and my spirituality. And all of those things are so much richer because I did.
Now it may seem like a strange for me to bring what I’m about to say into the conversation, but I love this quote from Isaac Asimov—it may not be exactly what we’re talking about, but I think it does relate. And he says this: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …’”
I really believe that same attitude of noticing things that are new, and different, and strange, and mysterious and going “Hmmm. That’s funny”—that that’s an essential part of an authentic and life-giving spirituality. Really any system of knowing. And so let’s get comfortable with our questions.
And then all this talk about questioning everything may seem a little scary. After all, isn’t that what conspiracy theorists claim to be doing? They say you can’t trust scientists, medical researchers, government officials or academics. And so you need to question everything. There are faith teachers who say we shouldn’t trust human knowledge. You know the old “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” thing. How is what I’m saying different from that?
Well there a big difference between conspiracy theorists who claim to be questioning everything and science which really does question everything.
Those who follow conspiracy theorists and fake news, and who pass those things on, do so, I believe, for at least two reasons. And I’m sure there are others as well.
Firstly, their default is to distrust whatever is considered mainstream. They distrust science, they distrust authority figures just because they are authority figures and just because it is science. Somehow it has become a mark of faith and of so-called ‘wisdom’ to deny evolutionary science and climate science. And so it’s easy to expand that to medical science like vaccinations and other scientific knowledge. Any authority figures who refer to science, then, are questionable for exactly that same reason.
And then the second reason why conspiracy theorists and people who like fake news pass that stuff on, it’s because those who embrace those theories do so without fact checking them or questioning their conspiracies. There’s this strange kind of logic that says: simply because their theory contradicts mainstream knowledge, that confirms that it must be true and no further proof is required. And in many cases the fact that there’s no evidence to support the conspiracy is taken as proof that the conspiracy is true, because the evidence is being covered up by all those others that they don’t trust. And of course, the more outrageous the theory, the more disconnected with reality it is, that’s also taken as proof of its authority.
This is not how science operates. Science follows the evidence. Old knowledge is questioned when new evidence reveals something new. New knowledge is shared when the evidence supports it. But there is always the recognition that new evidence can change what we know. And, of course, science always seeks to make sense of the world that we see and know, the world we actually live in.
Anyone who has traveled to other countries, or who has taken up a new hobby, or learned a new language or skill, will confirm that questions open our minds and our lives to new perspectives and experiences. And these new ways of thinking and being enrich our lives. They connect us more deeply with ourselves and with one another and with the world. They inspire us to keep growing, keep learning, keep living more fully.
Those who never stop questioning, never stop expanding their intelligence and wisdom. And that sounds to me like a very spiritual thing to do!
And so as we wrap this conversation today, I want to encourage you to consider the following questions. Reflect on them, meditate on them, and let them lead you into a deep and more vibrant relationship with your own life-giving questions:
So what questions have been out of bounds for you? What questions have you been keen to ask but haven’t? When have you withheld a question for fear of judgement? What difference would it make to your life to develop a healthy and intentional practice of questioning? And how would you want to do that?
I’ll leave you with those questions was we wrap up this episode. I really hope that what we’ve chatted about today will help you to find your freedom a little more. And I hope it will help you to make questioning a spiritual practice in the ways we’ve spoken about today. And I hope that will empower you to show up more fully, authentically, and courageously in your life and relationships.
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