Monday, 30 January 2012


I like to ask questions. No, make that I find it impossible not to ask questions. So much so that I sometimes think I resemble a toddler constantly saying 'Why? Why? Why?' I partly blame this on the programme Playdays that I watched as a kid. That Why-Bird has a lot to answer for. I'm particularly full of whys when it comes to church because quite frankly there is a lot to ask why about. Before I started going to church in my early 20s I had only done the usual school carol services, weddings and funerals and even then my first few years of church experience were in a completely unrecognisable form of church where people sat on the floor and bashed out songs on a drum kit (the minister once even sang to us with a banjo - bad times). It's only the last few years that has seen me delving into the massively complex world of church history and tradition as part of the Church of England.

I love what the Church of England offers. The heritage and history, the thoughts of thousands of people who have gone before, adding to what was there and perfecting as they went, but it can be mightily confusing to the uninitiated. I don't doubt that there is great richness in a lot of what goes on but without asking why I, and I fear many others who are afraid to ask why, have limited access to it. It's just words and symbols and different coloured altar clothes. I've been lucky to encounter lots of people who patiently answer my whys. I maintain that being asked why is a compliment to the person or thing being questioned. I love it when people question my seemingly barmy life in a titchy parish church banging on about God and making all kinds of strange decisions. Who questions something they consider worthless? You just dismiss it.

There comes a point where as adults we seem to become afraid of questions. We don't like asking them or being asked if we haven't prepared an answer. I suppose we worry about feeling silly, the 'I should really know this by now so I can't ask' feeling. Or perhaps we worry that our beliefs or ideals won't stand up to questioning so we protect ourselves by leaving the questions unasked. I can understand that. But I also think life has a way of asking you the questions you are afraid of. The big kahuna I see time and again for the religious (or just the thoughtful thinker) is 'Why does God allow suffering?' and we all know we'll have to face up to that one. We might not want to ask that question of ourselves but one day life will, when we or someone close to us is suffering or dies. Sometimes only experience can really give you any answers, sometimes answers are impossible to find, but I do think that asking questions is important for when the trials of life come knocking.

My husband is long suffering when it comes to my questions. I often make him plumb the depths of his theology degree to explain some belief that people seem to take as granted. Many times he has exclaimed 'You can't ask that question!' To which I reply, 'Why?' (are you getting the toddler reference?!) One of Ben's favourite lecturers once did a quiz on beliefs with his first year undergraduate class. Keen to impress they were all very decisive about their answers to the theological questions posed. When the answers were revealed the lecturer, one renowned in his field, had the lowest score in the class. He said 'I'm uncertain about many things, the more questions I ask the more questions I find.' So perhaps within the questions there is a place for uncertainty, a place for knowing that there is always more exploring to do and to know that rather than black and white, wrong and right, there is a whole lot of grey out there and that is no bad thing. I don't think I'll ever stop asking questions but my hope is that it makes my mind bigger not smaller. Questions, and really listening to the answers, offers a world of new experiences. Listen to the Why bird and never be afraid of 'Why!'


  1. Great post, Nicola. I think I'm getting more and more like Ben's lecturer as I get older - still asking questions, but increasingly aware that often there aren't any simple answers. I cling to the idea of God as mystery rather than easily definable.

  2. Since Ellie was born I've done a bunch of reading around various eastern pholosphies, and I think I found the Vedantic explanation for suffering in the world the most amusing - as far as I understand it the a non-literal way of describing their belief is that the whole world is Brahman playing hide and seek with himself, only he's forgotten that he's playing, and so bad things can happen. Personally I've come to realise that suffering is really something that we cause to ourselves by and large, through wishing for things to be a certain way rather than the way they really are.

  3. Most philosophical bro! I hope we’re not the victim of a forgotten game of hide and seek, bad times!

    Perpetua, I agree. I think it takes a certain confidence to accept a little mystery. Perhaps we develop that more as we get older!