By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Content Editor
mgreen@afro.com

With the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, continued racial injustice and in the midst of life’s inevitable and trying proverbial storms, people may find themselves asking, “Why, God?”  

“Why do we suffer? Why are so many people without jobs, homes and food? Why is there sickness? Why is there an entire pandemic plaguing the entire world,” are some of the many questions posed since the beginning of time and certainly over the past 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

While some Christian denominations teach to not question the all knowing Creator, interrogating God is downright Biblical, according to Grace Episcoal Church’s Associate Rector for Families, Children and Youth, the Rev. Kevin Antonio Smallwood.

“Have you heard of the grumbling Israelites who questioned God so much that they would have preferred to go back to a life of bondage? Or what about the first disciples of Christ, especially Thomas, who is also known as doubting Thomas? Thomas was not having it unless he had his scientific proof! He wanted to touch and see, not just believe in his heart,” Smallwood said. “In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, we find those who seek God, questioning God’s motives, intentions, omnipotence, and even resurrection.”

Now throughout certain religious texts and institutions, those who question God get a bad RAP. The apostle Thomas, for instance, is famously known as Doubting Thomas despite the fact that he was also extremely loyal to Jesus. When Jesus decides to go to see Lazarus in Judea, an area precariously close to Jerusalem, where He was hated and later crucified, Thomas is the apostle who calms the other disciples’ fears about the dangerous trip.  “Let us go, that we may die with him,” Thomas says to the disciples in John 11: 16 (NIV). Thomas was ready to die with Christ, however the poor guy gets the moniker of “Doubting Thomas,” solely because he was absent from the upper room, when Jesus appeared to the other disciples days after his crucifixion and he wanted to see the evidence of the resurrection with his own eyes. 

While faith in God and a trust that Jesus died on the cross to save the world are primary tenets of Christianity, Smallwood explained that questioning God can be a “healthy” part of the Christian spiritual journey.

“The word healthy implies that this matter concerns well-being of some sort, usually spiritual. And with that as our beginning, how can we not question God? Well-being of all kinds, and the road to healthy lifestyles, require questions.  When you go to the doctor they ask you questions, you ask them questions and together you cultivate a road to well-being. The same should be with God,” Smallwood explained.

The priest, whose current work surrounds spiritual formation, said that questioning God should come with viable options.  

“If your parameters for questioning are surrounded by the deep longing for life-changing growth in faith, then absolutely question. As the Good Word states, ‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,’ (Matthew 7:7 NRSV).  However, if the purpose of questioning God is malicious and to test God for the sake of oppressing  others, and oneself, or to separate people from the overflowing love of God- then cease,” Rev. Smallwood said.  “We must teach the difference, and intention is everything!”

Smallwood was not always clear that questioning was a part of one’s faith journey, and in his childhood felt semblances of guilt for interrogating God. Nonetheless, it was questioning that led him closer to God’s love and his calling.

“In my youth, I felt guilty for doing so, as if God would be upset with me. I often felt sad and angry, especially when I wasn’t able to FEEL God close to me. My questions sometimes made me feel confused and hopeless. One of the most important questions I asked God over and over again is, ‘Do you love me?,’ and this question brought a spectrum of feelings- guilt, shame, anger, sadness.  And yet, it is from these questions, and other spiritual experiences that continued to bring me closer to God’s affirming and loud ‘YES!’  So from those questions came a whole transformation of my life and my purpose, but it didn’t happen overnight. I feel that unimaginable growth can come from questioning God.”

Despite his endorsement of questioning God, Smallwood also explained that there are other key components to building one’s faith. 

“ is an essential part, but definitely not the only part. If all we do is question God and not make room to seek God’s answer, then the process can lead to madness. But when our questions are coupled with prayer, worship, Bible study, practicing beloved community, and the intention to restore our souls with God’s help, then we have a fuller experience of God’s presence among us,” Smallwood said. “Also, the questions begin to show answers, if we are willing to hear them!”

Rev. Smallwood told the AFRO his continuous question to God, often gets a clear answer.

“‘Why me?’ This is a question that often comes up, even during my ordination to the priesthood. I often wonder, ‘why me?’ Why was I called to be a pastor, why do I have a deep love for all of creation? Why me? And I’m a romantic who loves words of affirmation, so take this with a grain of salt,” Smallwood said laughing. “But seriously, can you imagine God speaking to you and saying exactly why you were created, why you were called to your profession and passions?  Like a descriptive answer, whew!  And yet, my spiritual journey continues to lead me to the answer: ‘Because I love you,’ and that is more than I can ask for.”

The AFRO asked readers, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” 

People were very hesitant to share their questions, with only two inquires submitted: “Lord, why did You have me go through such shame at a young age,” and“, “What is the purpose of Satan’s existence?”” These are both great questions, worthy of the Savior’s response.

With people’s reluctance to share their questions, this reporter was given ample time to consider what would I ask if I had the opportunity to question God.  I will share that while I often inquire, “Why, God,” in a flippant manner, I actually don’t have one burning question for The Creator.  My constant fleeting question is why genuinely  good people suffer- a conundrum I’ve posed a lot here recently as my mother, one of the kindest people I know and currently Bishop-elect for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, grapples with health challenges.  

However, more than a decade ago, I reconciled with suffering as the closest experience Christians have to Jesus’ trials.  Like humans in mourning, Jesus cries at the site of Lazarus’ entombment moments before resurrecting him- : “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35).  Further, my mother, as I was working on this piece reminded me, Jesus himself questions God while suffering on the cross, when saying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 26:47).

If the one for whom the religion is built, interrogates God, it must be okay to question the Creator at some points- particularly throughout trials as Jesus did more than 2000 years ago.  From asking, hopefully comes clarity and can bring people deeper into their relationship with God.

“The hard work of asking, seeking, and finding are crucial to the wholeness of our beings, and those of us who find ourselves leading and guiding should empower, not condemn, when we come across inquisitive minds,” Smallwood said. “Children and youth are now questioning systems and beliefs in a way that has never been seen before, they are looking for something real, let’s offer them the tools to find it, trusting that it will bring them closer to God’s love for them.”

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here! 

 

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor