Asking Hard Questions

I finished reading The Satanic Verses this weekend. It’s the long novel that got author Salman Rushdie into so much trouble with Islamic leaders who wanted to kill him after its publication that he had to go into hiding and then wrote one of my all time favorite novels that holds what I consider to be the best defense for apologetics in all of literature: Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

I’d checked out the school library’s copy of The Satanic Verses back in December and got a gut punch when I found a sticky note in distinct handwriting in the back cover of the book. It was thoughtful and deep questions written by a student I taught in my first years at BFA who walked away from Jesus a couple of years ago. This was the stereotypical “good Christian kid” who grew up in a Muslim country but had all the right answers to explain how Christianity was a better choice than Islam. Throughout the text were little sticky tabs with notes, and I probably pulled out nearly a hundred as I read through the text and looked at what caught my student’s attention when they were in high school.

The novel has many complex themes developed over 550 pages, but the upsetting part to the religious leaders is the fact that it is a critique of blind faith. Through many parabolic stories, characters are shown that those who claim to receive messages from God find those messages to quite conveniently line up to favor the messenger in arguments with others. For example, the monotheistic prophet is allowed a harem to himself while other followers must practice strict abstinence or monogamy. When questioned, there are swift and cruel consequences on the dissenters.

The great irony of the sticky notes I was encountering was the student who could so easily poke holes in Islam refused to ask hard questions of Christianity until they had removed all committed Jesus followers from their life. This student didn’t keep me close after graduating, but I have kept up with their Jesus loving former friends who told me of being ghosted by this student individually and in group chats. I know of a coach, a small group leader, and a former RA who all tried to reach out and stay connected to this kid as they transitioned to university and were unilaterally ignored. I’ve watched this happen with a few former students now, but the heartbreak never lessens. These students are scared to ask questions to the people who have chosen Jesus, so they walk away from Jesus when their questions never get answered.

My heart for years has been to draw out the hard questions and give students a safe space to answer them. I recognize the difficulty there is for some people to grapple with things, and in some ways it’s an easier path to have the blind faith and not face difficult truths. I’m, however, a much bigger fan of getting all the weaknesses out in the open and understanding the Jesus team we’re siding on in the pursuit of saving souls. I’m incredibly grateful for the mentors and leaders I’ve had in my life that challenged me to think deeply and take ownership of my faith. I’ve been trained well to hold open handed my beliefs and always let God refine my understanding when I’ve misunderstood something in the Gospel. I hold tightly to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and I’m ever more excited to learn about this infinitely knowable God who chose to humbly relate to humanity in such a way that is patient with our selfishness and misunderstandings.

The note-leaving student may not currently be following Jesus, but long before finding their thoughts in Rushdie’s text, this is a kid I pray for regularly. I’ll always love that precious child, and their story is not over. There’s been a lot of hurt in their life – given and received – but I know the Lord can redeem anything. I know that because the Lord has redeemed me from all the hurt I’ve given and received.

My story isn’t over yet either, and I’ll keep asking hard questions about why my students face so much hurt in their lives, why I face so much hurt while trying to love them, and why this avalanche of reconciliation is so slow in coming.

I’ll leave you with this encouragement to keep asking questions: Habakkuk 2:1 is the end of the previous chapter’s long complaint, and the Lord responds to the prophet by telling him in verse 3,

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time;

it speaks of the end

and will not prove false.

Though it linger, wait for it;

it will certainly come

and will not delay.”

I’d definitely encourage you to ask hard questions to lots of people – lots of Jesus loving people would be my recommendation. Someone’s listening to your questions when you ask them.

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