It’s no secret. I like questions. Questions are the starting point of a path towards truth and knowledge. Questions and doubts, if addressed properly, have the capability to buttress our faith and knowledge of the world better than pretty much anything else. Fact is that the moment you think you have all the answers, you’ve just claimed to be God, and as soon as you stop asking questions you’ve just cut yourself off at the knee: incapable of ever moving on or growing.
That said, there are some questions that I’ve seen asked a great number of times, and (contrary to what our grade school teachers told us) they are bad questions. This isn’t an exhaustive list of bad questions, but these came to mind while I was thinking about writing this post.
So, while questions, in general, are good things, there are exceptions, and these are some of them along with better, alternative questions to ask:
Can I do X and still be a Christian?
This is one I’ve seen on Revelife a few times. It doesn’t matter what X is–drinking alcohol, sex, gambling, dancing, seeing R-rated movies, eating potato chips, drinking soda, drinking water–the answer is yes*. Yes! You can be a Christian who smokes. You can be a Christian even if you have sex outside of marriage. Yes, you can be a Christian even if you’ve murdered someone.
Paul writes that, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” So yes, just because you engage in questionable activity X does not mean you are not a Christian.
That said, let’s not forget the second clause of that sentence. “Not everything is beneficial.” Just because I can do something does not necessarily mean I should do something. I am perfectly capable of going to the grocery store and stealing someone’s baby out of the shopping cart. That doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to do that or that I should start baby-stealing. Paul is just writing that even if I stole a baby, that would not mean I am not a Christian.
So instead of asking “Can a Christian smoke cigarettes,” ask “Would it be glorifying to God if I were to smoke cigarettes?” (see verse 31). And ask, “Would my smoking cigarettes cause my brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble?” (verse 32). If something is not glorifying to God, then it is in our best interest to not do it….and being a stumbling block to someone else is decidedly not glorifying to God.
When asking whether or not X is glorifying to God, it’s always good to turn to scripture first. The Bible has a lot of good stuff in it. However, the Bible is not (neither is it meant to be) a comprehensive rule book that says “Do this in this situation and do that in that one.” There are many things (e.g. smoking cigarettes) that aren’t explicitly mentioned. In that case, look for similar things that the Bible does talk about. But not matter what, be honest with yourself: does having premarital sex really–and I mean really–bring you closer to God? If it doesn’t, then you probably shouldn’t do it, but even if you do, that doesn’t change your status as “Christian.“
*Okay…there are a couple exceptions: You can’t really be a Christian if you don’t believe Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for your sins and you can’t be a Christian if you deny all authority of Scripture (since that’s really the only place we can really learn about the teachings of Jesus). But you can drink, smoke, do drugs, play cards, dance, and even *gasp* vote Democrat and still be a Christian.
How much of Y can I do before it becomes a sin?
This one usually comes up in one of two ways: “How far (physically) can I go with my significant other before it becomes a sin?” and “How many beers can I have before it becomes a sin?” The reason these are bad questions is because they are minimalist questions. It’s essentially saying, “I don’t want to follow God, but I don’t want to have the guilt of sin on my shoulders.” They miss the heart (double meaning) of the issue. In a dating relationship there is no line in the sand such that on this side you’re not sinning, but as soon as your hand moves 3mm closer to the genitalia it becomes a sin. Or here you’re sinning, but if you were to move your tongue four circles per minute slower you’d be fine. That’s stupid. Minimalist questions ask for clean-cut answers that don’t exist, or, even if they do exist, the asker is in the wrong state-of-mind/heart to hear the answer.
So don’t ask minimalist questions. They won’t do you any good. As I said before, the problem with minimalist questions is the heart behind them. It’s the heart that needs changing, and the better questions will follow after. If our hearts are really set after following God, then we will actively seek after that which brings us closer to Him. If making out while naked brings us further away from Him, then we won’t have to ask, “well, since we’re not actually having sex, is it okay?” we will avoid it simply because it separates us from God; sin or not. And if we can taste the spirit in our beers as we sit on balconies with good friends, then by all means, have a few beers! but as soon as you loose focus of God, that’s a sign you’ve had too many…so to speak.
How can the Bible say Z?
This is one I’ve run into a lot lately, but hadn’t at all until recently. The straight answer: The Bible says everything it does with ink and a pre-constructed language system. That’s how it does it. The fact that the Bible says incredibly paradoxical things, like “Take joy in grief,” or, “Be perfect like God,” does not mean the Bible is false. What does it mean? What can we learn from these confusing passages? These are better questions. But asking “How can you believe any of the Bible when it contradicts itself by saying ‘we are judged by works‘ and ‘there is no need for the law‘” is the start to a frustrating conversation with no end, no resolution, no closure, and no productivity. Asking why God would put that in there is like asking why recessive genes evolved or why the evolutionary processes didn’t remove our appendices. It’s searching for an answer that is completely and utterly unknowable and has no practical significance. So instead of asking, “how can God say that?” ask “What does that mean? What’s the historical context? How does this apply to my life?”
My intent is not, as I hope I made clear in my intro, to say that questions are bad. Nor is my intent to bash anyone who’s ever asked these questions, because I’d wager a bet that everyone (myself included) has asked all three types in various forms numerous times. My intent is to save some people some trouble and some hassle by encouraging them to ask good, productive questions that will help them along on their search for truth, rather than getting sidetracked by bad questions.
The Blacksheep sends his love.