Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Asking Questions

I remember being taught that there are no dumb questions. I took that lesson to heart as an elementary school student. One day, before classes started, several students were waiting by the door, huddled under the awning to avoid the ubiquitous winter rain of Tacoma. I overheard the conversation of a few older students and didn’t understand one of the words they’d used. I asked what it meant. They laughed at me. I think I was in the fourth grade.

We don’t know much about the life of Habakkuk. We think that he lived in Jerusalem during the rise of the Babylonian Empire and that he witnessed chunks of Judea being conquered. There’s also a strong suspicion that Habakkuk was a worship leader, possibly even at the Temple in Jerusalem. We don’t know for sure, but it makes sense in light of what he has to say and how he responds to God.

Despite what we’re told in an official capacity, it appears that there are dumb questions, at least according to the fifth graders who made fun of me. I wasn’t made fun of, but when I got to graduate school I was still the only one asking questions. I would sit in class listening to the professor lecture and be unable to resist asking a question -- either to clarify the point or challenge the conclusion. For some reason I believed that questioning was okay even though the other students avoided it.

As Habakkuk looked at the world around him he had only questions. He saw violence, death, destruction, and injustice and couldn’t help but ask the question: Why? Why would all this be happening? Why would God allow his people to suffer? Why would God use the evil Babylonians? Why?

God answered him.

We get the message loud and clear from our peers, from our bosses, from our teachers, and from our preachers that asking questions is not allowed. It’s as if we hit an age of no-more-questioning beyond which we just need to stop that part of our brain and listen to others who already have everything figured out. Schools are set up that way: take in information and regurgitate it onto a test. Jobs are set up that way: learn your task and do it forever without changing. Peer-groups are set up that way: don’t question what makes something cool or you’ll become uncool. Churches are set up that way: faith is the unquestioning adherence to what someone else has already figured out. There’s no need for you to ask questions anymore. You’re not a toddler. Grow up and get over that childish habit.

Habakkuk had the temerity to ask God why all these bad things were happening. He hadn’t learned his lesson. He hadn’t stopped questioning altogether.

God’s response: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

That’s it. That’s what Habakkuk got for his questioning. He heard that he wouldn’t be able to figure it out with his tiny brain. It makes me think of the fifth graders laughing at me because I didn’t know a word. Questioning didn’t work. God’s answer wasn’t one.

So Habakkuk asked again. The nerve. He got a response from God -- which I never have -- and had the nerve to ask again. This time he nearly accuses God. He tells God that the Babylonians are evil and that God’s goodness isn’t compatible with them.

God responds. Again.

This time God tells Habakkuk that he’s right. God still has standards. He still holds people to the commands he’s given. He still demands that people treat each other with dignity and respect. He still abhors abuse. God is still the same God that Habakkuk has been worshipping and leading others to worship.

In the midst of all this God tells Habakkuk: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Hab. 2.4).

The odd thing is that “faith” is often used to descry questioning. I’ve been told that my questioning about God and religion is the opposite of faith. But here is God responding to his servant and telling him to live by faith. You would think that if God thought questions were bad he would have either ignored Habakkuk or rebuked him for questioning. Neither happens.

The end of God’s response is this: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Hab. 2.20).

That is the summary of God’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions. Not a rebuke, not ignoring him, but the promise of his presence.


If you were guaranteed to get an answer to one question, who would you ask and what would the question be?

Have you asked a question and then learned that it wasn’t okay? How did that feel? How has that affected your desire to ask questions?

Why do you think it’s not okay to ask questions in many environments? How is it helpful to limit questions?

Have you felt like it’s not permitted to ask questions of God? What caused you to feel that way (or to not feel that way)? Do you think your situation is the norm for most people?

If you were guaranteed to get an answer from God, what would you ask?

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