Introductory Essay–Asking Questions

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, our young women’s activity group sold shaved ice downtown on a hot summer day. We were trying to raise money to fund our girls’ camp activity for that year.  I remember sitting on the edge of some store’s garden wall, waiting for customers when an old black gentleman with a thick, grizzly beard carrying a brown paper sack sat down next to me and began to ask questions about our Church and our beliefs.   He said he had been a professor of religion once upon a time and still took a great interest in learning about other religions and comparing beliefs.

I was automatically intrigued, for this, too, was of great interest to me.  So I answered all of his questions and listened to what he had to say.  He mentioned that the great purpose of religion is to answer questions of the soul. It’s humankind’s search for truth. He said every religion he ever studied had different answers to the same basic questions, and he was listing off a few of them when one of the leaders in charge of our group came over to shoo him away, afraid of him or afraid for me.  I could understand why. He was not well dressed and he was taking no interest in our flavored treats, perhaps she was afraid of kidnapping. Perhaps she was also afraid he was spreading anti-religious sentiment.  I was rather upset and sad that I did not get to finish our conversation, however, and have carried its memory with me ever since.

There is another experience I would like to relate, in order to give you more background on the topic at hand.  Throughout my experiences in France—and often even in the United States—I have come across people who fear organized religion, most understandably for the atrocities committed in its name.  France’s religious wars of the 1500s, the brutal Crusades of previous centuries, the oppression of our own ancestral pilgrims, are but a small number of the very long list of awful things men have committed in the name of Christ.  The name of religion is tarnished and tainted, stained with the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

Most of the time this blood is spilled over a only a hand-full of reasons: fear of differences in belief, and fear of asking too many questions, poking at hidden sins of clergy and leadership and endeavoring to cover those sins.  The sin of pride wreaks a great evil, as does a love of power and control.  

Men and women have died because they have asked questions. William Tyndale asked, “Why don’t we have an English Bible so that laymen can read it and learn of God?” And he was taken, cast in jail, and the killed for his “crime” at poking at the fabric of “the way things are” and searching for the truth.[1]

Yet the greatest of men and women are those who have asked questions, who have understood that the search for truth is not a single event but an ongoing journey. 

It is to realize that we are not yet as God, we do not have all the answers, but to rest assured that since God loves us, He will teach us what He knows—and we must never stop seeking and finding that truth.

A third story I would like to tell to give you more background is this.  I once met a woman who was convinced that everything she ever heard was true—but only for a select group of people.   In other words, as she continued to explain to me, though to her there was No God, to her mother, who was a devout Armenian Apostolic Christian there was.  It was as if she was living in a bubble, where in her  bubble No God was there, but in her mother’s bubble God existed.   Every religion, no matter how contradictory, was exactly true—but only to that person or that society.  Imagine a sort of Greek pantheon, but instead of each god interacting with each other, each patron god only helps its people and cares about no one else. The laws of the universe change drastically from one place to another, from one divine personality to another, and you are never sure which way is up or which way is down, if gravity will still affect you over there the way it does over here. 

Truth, then, becomes whatever you wish it to be. This is called “moral relativism”.  You decide, in the end, if it is wrong to steal, what happens after you die, etc.  There are no universal truths, nothing solid to hold onto across the whole. 

What I would like to propose is this:

  • There is a thing called Universal Truth and it is up to us to search for it by continuously asking questions and getting answers.  We must never reach “the end” of our journey and think we know enough.
  • All religions hold truth in them, provide comfort in times of sorrow and suffering, and bring many other benefits to its people. There is much to learn from every religion and the questions they have sought to answer, the conclusions they have reached about why things are the way they are.  However, this does not mean that every religion is completely true. There is a difference.
  • Science, history, medicine, philosophy, art, music, literature, life, and so on — all have great truths to offer us and teach us. However, we must not hold science or philosophy as static or certain, either. We must continually be testing and learning more, and not hold every “scientific fact” as God’s word, either. (Imagine the embarrassment of those who believed the world was flat!) You will notice that I said there is much to learn from every religion. In fact, I would suggest that there is much to learn from every single field of study.  God is not just a God of religion, but of all things, and by studying all things, we can learn not just more about God, but about ourselves, about others, and about the world we live in. 
  • Remember – No matter what religion we are, no matter how much we think we know about anything—I guarantee you God knows more. 
  • Because God loves us so much, He is willing to teach us what He knows.  Like every other field of learning, we learn bit by bit in a gradual process that takes time, effort, desire, and intent.  The moment we think we know it all is the moment where we will stop learning, not because He is not willing to teach, but because we are no longer willing to learn.  That is where the danger begins, not just for ourselves, but for others around us. Communication lines sever brutally between husband and wife, parent and child, and between friends when one party thinks they know everything. The same thing happens in our relationship with God.

(I have referred to God and His love for us as fact.  I will discuss more about how I discovered this later, but for now, bear with me for the moment.)

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Footnotes: [1]  William Tyndale, information from The Blessing of Scripture, by D. Todd Christofferson.