Since last week’s post, inspired by the big questions Leo Tolstoy asked in his book A Confession, I’ve been thinking about the questions that people in the Bible asked. From the sorts of questions recorded in Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and elsewhere in scripture, it seems clear that God is okay with us asking Him things such as “Why am I here?”, “What is the purpose of suffering?”, and “What ought I do with my life?”
Today, we still have a lot of questions for God. Some of them are specific, such as “Why did that bad thing happen to me?” or “How can I decided what the next step for my life is?” Others are more general, the sorts of things that most thinking people wondered at some point in their lives, such as “What is the meaning of life?” and “Where do I fit into the universe?”
It often seems like these types of questions are too big to answer and so we shouldn’t try to ask them. Or it might seem as if we’re the only ones who haven’t figured this out yet, since everyone else seems like they’re functioning just fine. But we’re all asking questions and we all have things we’re uncertain about, just like people in the Bible. Even the “heroes of faith” like Job and David asked big questions, some of which seem audacious to us. We might expect God to get angry or offended at questions like “Why did you make me like this?” or “What do you think you’re doing, letting this terrible thing happen to me?” But throughout scripture, God shows remarkable patience with His people’s questions and also a willingness to answer. One of the most amazing things about Job’s story, for example, isn’t that Job asked questions about his suffering; it’s that God showed up to give an answer and ask questions of His own.
If you search for question marks in the Bible, you come back with 3,256 results in the WEB translation and 2,990 in the NET. The exact number varies depending on how translators choose to interpret phrases and where they put punctuation marks, but however you figure it up that’s a lot of questions. We can’t cover them all in one post, and not all fit in the “big questions” category. I’ve picked out four types of these questions I want to look at today, and there are plenty more that we could examine. If this inspires you to do a study on questions for yourself, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or in an email.
What is the point of anything?
In his darkest trials, Job asked why he’d even been born if this is what was going to happen (Job 3:11-16; 6:11-13; 10:18). It wasn’t a self-destructive thought for him, but it does seem to be one of frustration and despair. Why even live if suffering is the main result? What’s the point of being born, and living, and dying in a world where such terrible things can happen to good people?
Similarly, Solomon in Ecclesiastes wonders what the point is of living and working here on earth (Ecc. 1:3; 3:9; 4:8). Life seems to just go on and on with no real profit or gain, especially if you’re working alone rather than in a community. If there’s no satisfaction, or wealth, or any sort of meaningful profit then it’s all “vanity. Yes, it is a miserable business” (Ecc. 4:8, WEB). Others ask this type of question more specifically, wondering “What is the point of serving God?” (Job 21:15; Mal. 3:13-14).
God counters this sort of thinking with a question of His own: “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in richness” (Is. 55:2, WEB). In other words, if our lives and efforts seems pointless it’s because we’re devoting them to the wrong sorts of things. This reminds me of one of Tolstoy’s observations in A Confession* that I wrote about last week. He realized that just because it felt as if his life wasn’t meaningful that didn’t mean all life had no meaning.
Another answer that God offers to this question is a clearer picture of Himself. He answered Job’s questions about the meaning of life and the purpose of suffering by revealing Himself to Job more fully (for an interesting take on that aspect of Job, see Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read*). It might seem an oddly indirect answer to us, but it’s one that appeared to satisfy Job. The clearer we can see and understand God, the more meaningful life seems.
*please note that this is an affiliate link, which means I'll earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase this book.
Does God really care?
Faith in God answers a lot of life’s big questions. But it also brings up new questions. Once you believe that God exists and that He’s all powerful, it often follows that we wonder why He lets certain things happen. Why is there suffering? Why are there wars? How could a loving God allow such terrible things? Doesn’t He care?
The psalms are full of these sorts of questions. “Why do you stand far off, Yahweh? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1, WEB), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, WEB), and many more questions like these echo through history in the cries of many hurting people today (Ps. 13:1; 43:2; 44:24; 74:1, 11; 89:46; 108:11). We wonder why it seems that God leaves us alone in our times of trouble, and why it seems like He’s ignoring our cries for help (Lam 5:20; Hab. 1:2). Doesn’t He care about us at all?
There’s a story of a time when Jesus and his disciples were on a boat and a storm blew up. Jesus was sleeping through it, but they woke Him with the question, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” (Mark 4:38, WEB). Jesus hadn’t been worried at all, but at their question He got up and stopped the storm. I suspect there’s a reason Jesus wasn’t worried. With God on our side, the storms of life don’t present a real danger to us. Even if He seems to not be paying attention, He’s still very present and protective. He has the power to stop the storms instantly, and sometimes He does to show us His power and reliability, but things are still going to work together for good in the end even if He decides to let us go through the storms.
Perhaps a better question would be, “Why does God care so much?” There’s tons of evidence that God cares deeply about humanity. The main proof of that is found in Jesus’s sacrifice–God cares enough about us to die in our place. With that perspective in mind, our question may become “What are we that God should even think of us, much less care so much about us?” (Job 7:17; Ps. 8:4; Heb. 2:6). It’s awe-inspiring to think about the creator of the universe wanting us to be part of His family simply because He loves so much.
Why isn’t God doing things the way I want?
This next question is closely related to the last one. We wonder how long our trials will last, sure it would be better if God stepped in now and took care of things for us. We wonder how long it will be until the end comes, since it seems like the sooner the better for Jesus to return and stop pain, suffering, death, and evil. Similarly, we may question God’s planning and timing in other areas, wondering if He is unfair in the things that He commands or the way He interacts with people.
Even though these questions can sound like a lack of faith or an accusation, they’re still questions that it’s okay to ask. Jesus didn’t get upset when His disciples said, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”–He just answered their question (Matt. 24:3, WEB). Yahweh didn’t cut-off Moses for asking, “How long must this suffering last?” (Ps. 90:13, NET). We can ask these things. It only becomes problematic when we decided the answer must be that God is wrong and we’re right.
Tolstoy talks about the insanity of this attitude by comparing “learned and liberal” people who reject God to kids who tear apart a watch without understanding how to put it back together, then complain that it doesn’t work. That’s similar to the analogies found in the Bible. When people accuse God of unfairness or of not knowing what He’s doing, God turns some big questions back on them. He says, “You turn things upside down!” It’s not for the creation to question the Creator and decide that He’s the one who lacks understanding. “Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ House of Israel, aren’t my ways fair? Aren’t your ways unfair?” (Job 8:3; Is. 29:16; Jer. 2:5; Ezk. 18:23-29). God’s not the problem here; our limited understanding and lack of trust are what’s to blame.
What must I do now?
A rich young man once asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” When Jesus replied that this man should keep the commandments, he responded, ““All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:16-20; Mark 10:17-21; Luke 18:18-23). That question is at the top of my list for things I’d like to ask God and get a clear answer on right now. I grew up in the church and didn’t really have a rebellious phase (though that doesn’t mean I haven’t sinned/missed the mark on God’s commandments). But I do sympathize with this young man. I’ve been following God my whole life; what do I still lack?
Whether you’re just starting out your journey as a Christian–like those in Acts whose response to hearing the gospel was, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37; 16:30)– or you’ve been following God for many years, the question of what to do now is a good one. Throughout scripture, people asked questions like, “How can man be just with God?”, “Where does wisdom come from?”, “Where is the good way?”, and “How shall I come before Yahweh?” (Job 9:2; 28:12, 20; Ps. 119:9; Jer. 6:16; Mic. 6:6-8). We treat these questions like they’re very complicated, but God gives us simple answers.
He has shown you, O man, what is good.Micah 6:8, WEB
What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly,
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Jesus reiterates the simplicity of this point in the gospels. His answer to “How can we know the way?” is “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6, WEB). His answer to “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” and “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” is to love God and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:35-40; Luke 10:25-29). It’s not that complicated.
God welcomes His people to engage with Him in real, dynamic relationship. Part of that relationship involves asking questions. If we have concerns, we’re invited to take them to God. If we have questions about Him or for Him, we ought to ask and then seek answers from Him through prayer, Bible study, meditation on the Word, and fasting.
Featured image from Lightstock by Jantanee