You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:13
I remember it well. I was in high school when it happened. I found myself seriously questioning–doubting, even–much of what I had been raised to believe. The firm footing I thought I had seemed to be disappearing out from under me. Little did I know at the time that it would be the beginning of the process by which I would come to know Christ.
You see, one of my closest friends had become a Christian around that time and began going to a Baptist church. Once he learned about the differences between Protestants and Catholics, we ended up having several conversations. We had theological chats about the role of the Pope, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, praying to saints, and Catholic dogma about Mary the mother of Jesus.
Needless to say, I hadn’t thought about this stuff particularly deeply before. I had just accepted what I was told. I was asking for the first time: What do I really think about the faith that was part and parcel of my family upbringing? What do I really believe?
It was actually a little scary. Because not only did I have a bunch of serious theological questions about the Catholic faith and the Roman Catholic Church, I was also really worried about what my family would think if they knew I was asking them. And by family, I mean not only my mother, but also my aunts, uncles, cousins, and, perhaps most significantly, my grandmother. The last thing I wanted to do was to rock the boat and disappoint relatives.
Around this time I had been going to a church youth group with friends from school, the same Baptist church my friend and theological interlocutor attended (and still does!). Being a part of this youth group in a Baptist church–because that’s where my friends went–turned out to be an early and formative experience for me. Even though I kept a lot of my questions to myself, what really made the difference was the way I was made to feel so welcome as someone who clearly wasn’t a Baptist.
Years later my mother let me know that at the time she wondered whether or not she should encourage me to go to the youth group at our Catholic church instead. She decided not to mention it because, as she said, “My son and his friends aren’t out drinking and getting into trouble and are going to a church youth group on Friday nights. I certainly could have more to worry about!” Motherly wisdom at work.
At the same time, I had a relative who, knowing that I went to this youth group, informed me that Baptists were a cult–with the clear and obvious implication that Baptist churches were theologically questionable at best and spiritually dangerous at worst. While at the time I didn’t really have an answer or know how to respond, thankfully I ignored her warnings.
But this attitude was the reason I kept my most probing theological questions to myself. My extended family didn’t seem like a place that welcomed such conversation and criticism. You were simply supposed to accept what you were taught (or what you “caught”) and not really talk about it. Right or wrong, I associated this mentality with Catholicism specifically. Along with other difficult subjects, questioning what you were raised to believed was out of bounds. The result? I kept a lot of my spiritual struggles and questions inside. And I felt guilty and anxious about it for a long time.
All that to say that questions are important. There’s nothing wrong with asking hard theological and spiritual questions. I might even say it’s essential, especially since we’re talking about the things that matter most: identity, existence, and meaning. Even if you were raised going to church you should feel free to ask questions. For me, it was the process of asking these questions that opened me up to the reality and presence of Jesus. It was my struggle with what I believed that actually led me into a deeper faith. I’m still someone who asks questions, who seeks and searches out answers. It’s my experience that the Christian faith–that God, Jesus, and the Scriptures–bear up extraordinarily well under intellectual and existential scrutiny.
I often tell my kids that they can ask me anything. I want them to feel like our home–our family–is a safe place to wrestle with who God is, what we believe about him, what the Bible says, and what it means to follow Jesus. Now, to be sure, I will also teach them what I believe the Bible says. I will share with them why I am convinced that being a Christian means living in accordance with the very nature of reality. But my ultimate desire for them is that they would each become individual people of faith in Christ, not by avoiding hard and awkward questions but by growing more spiritually resilient and theologically secure in the act of asking them.