My oldest daughter asks her hardest questions at bedtime, when we flop open the pages of Scripture atop her quilt.
This night, the story of David and Goliath finds us. I read aloud about a heroic boy who felled a giant with one smooth stone.
In the bluish light of her bedside lamp, I can see on her face what’s coming next. She wears the hard questions in her knitted brow and tilted head.
“Mom?” she asks. “Why would God think it’s OK to kill Goliath? Isn’t all murder wrong?”
Instead of groping for a theologically sound answer to a reasonable question, I look straight into her eyes and give her my usual response: “That is a really good question, Lydia. What do you think?”
Some parents might consider this a cop-out – answering a child’s question with a question. But the way I figure, the most important part of this bedtime ritual isn’t the answer, but the freedom to ask the questions. I pray, even, that she and I might find joy in the questions.
Under the quilt most nights, my daughter and I trade theories and exchange hypotheses, which produce even more questions. I watch how our detective work lights up her hazel eyes — eyes that look like mine. People say this daughter is my “mini-me,” but here’s the big difference between us–
She has the courage to ask the questions that I never dared ask at her age.
- How do we know that Jesus is real?
- Are people just robots, and is God pushing the buttons, or do we decide how to live?
- Why did God let Adam and Eve eat that apple?
- If God loves us, why would he let bad things happen?
Even when I don’t have answers, I can give her the gift of a safe place to wonder. I pull her in closer to me, cradling her in the crook of my arm.
On this night, I tell her again how I found Jesus right in the middle of my questions, when I finally got around to admitting that I had them.
I tell her how questions didn’t ruin my faith. They rebuilt it.
I tell her about the five words highlighted in the study notes of my own Bible, right beside the story of the world’s most famous doubter, Thomas. The words are these: “Silent doubts rarely find answers.”
And I tell her how when I quit running from my questions, I found some of the answers in the most unlikely places: the tarnished stories of our faith heroes.
“That’s how we know the stories are real, Lydia,” I said, “These aren’t fairy tales. The characters in the Bible are real and weak and broken. They made mistakes, just like we do.”
I have only begun to tell our daughters how deep my doubt was — how it went so deep that it felt like an anchor, dragging me to the bottom of a murky lake. I didn’t even know if God was real, because it seemed so unlikely in a world gone mad.
Now I know that questions aren’t a curse, and that doubt can actually be a gift, because our doubt sends us on a quest that finds its answer at the foot of a cross and the mouth of a tomb — our greatest hope. I know what can happen when my own questions – which once felt like an anchor — suddenly become a life preserver. My questions were an honest groping toward a good God — this God I don’t always understand, but who promises never to leave me storm-tossed or alone in my doubts.
I also tell my daughter what can happen when doubt flips over, when faith grows from the mossy underside. That’s why she sees me cry in church some Sundays, and why I raise my hands when I sing.
She nods her head when I tell her that it really is okay to ask hard questions about God, and to wade your way into the theological deep — but that you can also find His love in the shallow end of the pool.
I lean across her side of the bed to switch off the lamp. We say our night prayers, and somewhere in the darkness of the room, the unanswered question about Goliath still hangs in the air.
But tonight, neither of us is haunted by the question mark.
Because we both know there’s one thing worse than the question that can’t be answered. It’s the question that was never asked.
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