In honor of Question Evolution Day tomorrow (Thanks, Jimmy and Clyde*), here are some thoughts on questioning.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. – Luke 2:46
It was my middle school biology class, second semester. We had spent a good portion of the first semester learning the basics of just what is meant by “science” – what can be observed with our five senses, the difference between “observation” and “interpretation,” and cause and effect – that everything that happens has a cause and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, nothing happens in a vacuum, nothing happens “just because.”
Now we were getting to the fun part – actually studying LIFE! I was excited to learn just how these bodies of ours worked. I knew we were incredibly complex creations, but according to that day’s lesson, we weren’t always as complex as we are now, nor were we “created,” per se.
Our teacher was saying that in a primitive life form “a mutation occurred.” We had already given up trying to figure out how that first life form came into existence out of the primordial goo, and I guess no one was willing to ask. But I didn’t want to go any further with this narrative without understanding exactly what happened after that mysterious emergence of life form. So, I innocently asked, “What cause the mutation?”
The teacher responded by explaining how the mutation benefitted the organism, and how subsequent organisms with this mutation survived more often than those without it, so they eventually overpowered and outnumbered the weaker, less evolved organisms. That made sense but didn’t answer my question.
I asked again, “What caused the mutation?” She again talked about what happened as a result of the mutations. She seemed eager to get on with the story about how that tiny thing became something bigger and more complex, so when I asked a third time, “But what caused the mutation in the first place?” she sighed with exasperation and said, “It just happened, OK?”
I didn’t have the guts to ask how that lined up with what we had learned first semester, that nothing “just happens.” (I did want to pass that class, after all.)
That was more than fifty years ago, but I remember it clearly. It was my first clue that possibly not everything I was learning in school added up or was complete. I was certainly not omniscient, but then neither were my teachers.
I sometimes look back on this episode in my life, as I see debates heating up today. I’ve seen Christians, including myself, getting sucked into losing battles, and now I’m thinking maybe we don’t have to be. Maybe we’re allowing ourselves to be on the defensive, when the burden of proof should be on the non-believer. Maybe we should ask them to explain why they believe what they believe? Besides, if we do this with a respectful, open-minded attitude, it can demonstrate to others that we are interested in their views and not just wanting to spout our own opinions.
There’s a place for telling my story, and I for one lean toward that way of witnessing. It’s hard to argue with. (You can’t tell me what I experienced didn’t happen. I was there.) And yet, it’s not all about me.
What kinds of questions could a Christian ask an atheist?
“If there is no intelligent Designer, how do you think complex systems like photosynthesis, metamorphosis, DNA, and immune systems came about?”
“Why do you think so many people believe in a higher Power? How could our finite minds invent something greater than ourselves?”
What kinds of questions would you ask someone who believes in God and heaven, but not in salvation through repentance and receiving forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for our sins?
“Do you believe heaven is a perfect place? Do you believe you are perfect?” [assuming they say “yes,” heaven is perfect, but “no,” they aren’t] “If you and the other imperfect people are allowed into heaven with all your imperfections, wouldn’t heaven stop being a perfect place?”
“If Jesus’ death didn’t pay for your sins, how else can there be both forgiveness and justice?”
A question for someone who wants to earn their way to heaven by doing enough “good deeds” to outweigh their “bad deeds”:
“How do you know when you’ve done enough?”
I’m sure you can think of more good questions. Please tell me (ask me) in the comment section.
Finally, please don’t think of evangelism as a debate or battle of wits. It isn’t. The cleverest debater can’t save a soul, and the most primitive communicator could see a soul saved before his eyes after the most mundane explanation of his faith. That’s because GOD does the saving. We can be used by Him to plant seeds of curiosity, engage a person in intelligent dialogue, and open the door for relationship that may someday result in their placing their faith in Jesus. But that will happen only when the Spirit of God draws that person to Himself. Our job, as Peter wrote, is to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.“ (I Peter 3:15a) He then added, “But do this with gentleness and respect...” (15b) I submit to you that having respect includes asking the other person to give the reason for whatever hope (s)he has, as well. Be willing to hear the other side. (In the words of NeedToBreathe, “Be more heart and less attack.”)
Most importantly, PRAY for others. Ask God to open their minds and hearts, present opportunities for them to hear about Jesus, and give you (or other believers) the right words to say. He will do that, and it will not be you speaking, but the Holy Spirit! (Mark 13:11)
Prayer: Lord, You created us, we didn’t create ourselves. Forgive us for the times we didn’t give You the glory You deserve. Everything we are, everything we have, and everything we do is all because You gave us life, gifts, and abilities. Speak through us to others who don’t know You yet and let them be drawn to You by Your love that shines through us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.