On Questioning: An Open Letter to My Students

Samantha L. Miller


Dear Students,

Lately, a lot of you have brought questions to me. Hard questions. Questions born of your hard experiences, often in the church. I hear you. You’ve been told you’re not allowed to be in the church or you’ve watched your friends or your family kicked out for one reason or another. Some of you hope to discover that there are other ways to worship because you have never felt God in the worship or Bible study or prayer forms you’ve been taught. Some of you ask about the logic of the stories in Scripture. Others of you ask how the character of God you’ve been taught squares with what you read in the Bible in our Intro Bible class. Still others of you ask how the character of God you’ve been taught squares with what you see in your church, in other Christians, and in the world. Many of you want to know where God is and why he isn’t showing up to fix the suffering in the world or in your own life, or why God is allowing it at all. That doesn’t seem very loving. At bottom, what most of you are asking me is whether God exists at all.

I hear you. These are real questions, and I understand how you got to this final big question. I see how you come to call yourselves agnostics and sometimes atheists. Some of you are genuinely seeking and desperately wanting answers. You used to believe, you want to believe, but there are just so many questions. Faith is just too hard some days. You’re not sure where you’re supposed to see God if all the places where you used to find God seem like places God has left. If you are open to God and wrestling with God, let me encourage you to keep wrestling until God blesses you.

Others of you, though, I’m concerned for. Are you really looking for an answer, or have you become content to keep asking the questions? Your struggle and questions are real, but some of you have made the questions the destination. Others of you have given up on having any answers at all because the questions seem so big and theology professors like myself often tell you, “It’s complicated. There’s not an easy answer to that one.” Or for some other reason altogether answers just seem impossible, or seem less real than the questions. It’s this state of constant struggle that concerns me. Do you want to believe?

It’s not the questions that concern me. I question. I questioned a lot in high school and college, and, since I’ve mostly lived in places with long winters, often in February. Questions are real and good and draw us ever further into God’s mystery. Asking questions, if we are asking them of God rather than about God, can be the way God draws us close. My own life with Christ has been deepened and strengthened by asking God my questions.

No, what concerns me is the posture with which some of you ask. You ask everyone but God questions about God. You ask as a challenge, but one that you don’t especially want taken up. The questions have become a comfortable place to stay so that you never need to make a decision. It leaves you in control. It means that all possibilities might be true, but so long as you don’t make a choice, you can’t be wrong. Here’s the issue, though: questioning all the time without listening is a self-focused activity. So I ask: are you listening? Are you actually open to God? Are you willing to be de-throned?

Because this is going to make the difference. If you ask me whether God is real, I will tell you, “Yes.” Am I sure beyond any shadow of a doubt? No, not every day. And still the answer is Yes. I say this because at some point it doesn’t matter what anyone tells you about God. At some point, God needs to catch hold of you himself. And God has caught hold of me.

To insist that you have to have the right answers before you will believe that God is real is to insist that you are the arbiter of truth. Or to insist that you’re getting the answers right is more important than the Truth. But to be genuinely open, to genuinely want answers to your questions—instead of simply the status of questioning—is to open yourself to the God who will catch you and take you where you never thought you would go.

God has a history of catching people where they least expect it. Thomas Aquinas was one of the most systematic, academic theologians of all time, and toward the end of his life, God came to him in a mystical experience and changed everything. Martin Luther fretted in his questions about God and salvation until the day the Holy Spirit revealed a new meaning and love in Romans. Augustine sought knowledge in every philosophy, being drawn ever closer to God until God simply grabbed him by the collar and brought him face to face with himself. Julian of Norwich and the mystics all know that God will come as God comes.

I hear your questions, but I can’t finally answer them for you. There is nothing I can say, really, that will convince you that God is real. God must catch hold of you. I promise to keep listening, promise to wrestle with you, but I will also challenge you to drop your defenses and listen. Make a choice to be open to God. Make a choice to believe. Take a risk to believe. Then God will show you how much God loves you.

With love,
Your professor of many questions


Posted Jun 06, 2022

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