Learning to ask the right questions

Christian faith is not so much about getting the right answer.

Yme Woensdregt

In my column last week, I suggested that asking questions is a good way of learning, and especially for Christians. This week, I want to refine it a bit by suggesting that Christian faith is not so much about getting the right answer as it is about learning to ask the right questions.

One of the truisms of life is that “the questions you ask will determine the answers you get”— so it’s important to learn to ask the right questions. People of faith are people on a life–long journey, seeking to grow into the fullness of our humanity, searching for the way of compassion and faithfulness. The metaphor of a journey is helpful. A journey has two elements: the destination, and the manner of journeying.

Firstly, on a journey, we are on our way towards a destination. Sometimes, the destination is easy to define. If we decide to go to Vancouver, we get out a map (or plug in our GPS), plot our course, and begin driving until we get there. The road signs along the way help us see how close we’re getting to our destination.

Other times, the destination is not quite so easy to define. In the life of faith, the only clear thing for me is that our goal is to live a life marked by compassion and faithfulness, hope and peace. But the precise shape of that life remains unclear. In fact, our destination is largely shaped by the way in which we make our journey.

This second element of a journey is a vastly important thing. To use the same example, we could rush to Vancouver to get there as quickly as possible and miss everything in between in our urgency to get there. If we’re lucky, we won’t be fined for speeding. The other option is to take a little longer on the trip, enjoy the sights, make sure we eat well, and arrive a little less tired and stressed out.

If that’s important on a road trip, it is absolutely critical in our journey through life. As we journey in the company of other faithful men and women, each of us is responsible to shape our own journey. But we are never alone. We journey with other people, as well as with all the creatures of earth.

For me, both the goal of life and the way we journey through life ought to be marked by compassion and hope, gentleness and peace. Flexibility and tolerance are strong virtues for me.

Trees look strong compared with the wild reeds in the field. But when the storm comes the trees are uprooted, whereas the wild reeds, while moved back and forth by the wind, remain rooted and are standing up again when the storm has calmed down.

Flexibility is a great virtue. When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy–washy. It means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground.

That applies to all areas of life. I am deeply rooted in the Christian faith. I have learned to trust that rootedness. But that does not lead me to believe that my way is the only way. I know God to be much larger than what I or any other human being can conceive. We can understand God in many different ways.

And while the way of following Christ is the path to which I have been called, I can also learn from other ways of understanding God. For me, truth is not divided. It all points to the reality at the heart of life.

I know that some people disagree strongly with me. Many have said that I’m not a true Christian. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that learning to ask the right questions is part of our journey of faithfulness. I have learned so much from people who follow other traditions. I have learned to ask deeper questions, and have grown as I have explored those ways with them.

My hope is that the flexible approach which I am learning to embody becomes attractive to more of us. God knows, the world is in a sorry state. There are so many things that keep us apart, so many excuses we can use for being hostile with each other. The Church is guilty of having fostered hatred against those who have disagreed and other faiths again and again. That’s a terrible thing to have done, and I mourn the church’s history deeply.

It’s time to try to live together in hope and peace, so that in our common humanity, Christ can be honoured. That’s the journey I want to make. Along the way, I am slowly learning to ask the right questions. I am learning to talk with others—not so I can change their minds, but so that I might understand them, and be understood by them.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook