WordWatch: Questions, questions, questions

We live in an age that thinks we should question everything. The bored, affluent culture around us is convinced that there are no answers, only questions. We live in a cynical, sceptical society that views the only worthwhile intellectual activities as being question­ing, disputing, arguing and challenging. Furthermore, when you’ve tested some­thing, you ought to move on and test some­thing else. The goal is an open mind, with every fresh set of questions washing in one side and out the other.

However, for the Apostle Paul, such intellectual testing has a purpose: “test every­thing; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21). GK Chesterton (I think it was him) agreed: “The purpose of an open mind is the same as that of an open mouth: to close it again on something solid”. In other words, it’s good to ask questions, but it’s good to know when to stop. It’s good to know when questioning for the sake of questioning has become a self-indulgent and unproductive activity; therefore, “foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Tim 2:23; KJV). (Later translations rendered that same ‘questions’ word zeteseis as ‘arguments’ [NIV, CEV and NLT], ‘disputes’ [NKJV] or ‘controversies’ [ESV and NRSV].)

But what do we say when people ask questions to which the Bible doesn’t provide answers? The obvious response is, “If we needed to know that, it would be in the Bible”. I once had a friend who delighted in asking such things as “Did Adam have a belly button?” and “Why do men have nipples?” That’s the sort of stuff you might expect in a youth group. But there are some youth leaders (and others!) who have difficulty accepting that when the Bible is silent, so should they be.

On the other hand, there are more serious questions. For instance, how will God judge remote New Guinea highlanders who have never heard the gospel? However, such questions are often asked to avoid the real issue of what will happen to those people who have heard the gospel (such as the questioner!)

So it can be important to recognize which questions are “foolish and unlearned” questions and which are more serious. Furthermore, it’s important for young Christians (and probably for all Christians) to learn that there’s a point at which questioning should stop and trusting God takes over.

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