We were on our spring break vacation and headed from one hotel to another for a meal via shuttle. We walked through the hotel lobby, up an escalator, and then took an elevator. As we moved through the parking garage, my seven-year old son Alex looked up at me and asked, “Who are we following?” I pointed to the employee who knew the way from the hotel to the shuttle, but Alex’s question struck a chord with me.
As I write, the world is a crazy place with the Covid-19 virus forcing us to practice “social distancing,” a phrase most of us didn’t know a week ago. The kids are home and learning online instead of going to school. Restaurants are closing their dining rooms along with the shuttering of movie theaters, hotels, and other businesses. The unknowns make public and individual anxiety levels spike. And the influx of information is rapid, overwhelming, and constantly changing. So, the question, “Who are we following?” is relevant today more than ever. The question leads us to look at the underlying source of our information. Is it reliable? Is it from a trusted expert? Or is it from a talking head who knows nothing about the truth but spouts misinformation anyway?
Since this crisis started, I’ve seen a lot of memes about how our ultimate trust should be in God. And for me that is true, but even then the question remains who do we follow? Where do we get our ideas about who God is and what he desires for the world? I’ve heard descriptions of Jesus that don’t sound anything like the Jesus I know. I think even Jesus would say, “Are they talking about me?” I contend that everyone, and I mean everyone, interprets the Bible. Where do they get their interpretations? Are they to be trusted? Simply saying, “we should read the Bible for ourselves,” isn’t enough by itself either. There are contexts – historical, cultural, religious – that weigh on the narrative that we might not know on our own. It’s complicated and challenging. Sometimes, we might want to throw our hands up in frustration.
One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was permission to ask questions. We would gather around the dinner table and talk about politics, the latest news, the world in general, and they allowed me to question anything and everything. And that freedom to ask questions extended to what we’d heard or learned at church. We sat at the table during Sunday lunch and dissected the sermon or the Sunday school lesson. Not in an effort to be blasphemous, but to decide if we agreed or not. I could say, “that doesn’t sound right to me,” and then my parents, brother, and I would discuss the subject.
Nothing was off limits. I learned that not only was it okay to question, but it was expected and encouraged. I was never told I had to believe something just because a certain person or party or group said it was true, not even if that person was one of my parents. I was taught to search for the source of the material and then make a well-informed decision. I became more comfortable with uncertainty and with “I don’t know” as the answer to a question. This willingness to dig deep and question things has served me well, at school, at work, and in deciding what I believe.
We need to be comfortable asking ourselves, who are we following? And, why are we following them? God doesn’t mind the questions. In fact, I think he welcomes them. God wants us to know who he truly is. The first step – the willingness to ask questions – may be one of the most important things we can do for our beliefs and our faith.