In an interview with Billy Graham, journalist David Frost asked the evangelist if he had any questions he hoped to someday ask God in heaven. Graham’s reply was simple: “Yes, thousands. Many things in Bible mysteries.”
Had I been the one to interview Graham, I would have probed further: Give us a few examples of questions. What would you ask the Great Creator first? I probably would have asked if he had the questions written down anywhere, or if there was one in particular that plagued him over the course of his life.
But I would also want to know how Graham became okay with asking God questions in the first place. Perhaps this is the most important question of all, because it’s one aspect of the Christian life that is often neglected.
I sometimes joke that I was born a Christian: my mom was baptized when I was growing inside her body. Did holy waters swim from the baptismal font on through to the umbilical cord? I was 5 years old when I asked Jesus into my heart; I recall walking down the long red aisle of the little Baptist church we called home at the age of around 9 or 10, my steps a public declaration that I wanted to be baptized. As a teenager and an adult, I served as a volunteer and was later on paid ministry staff with a parachurch organization. Eventually, I married and, like my parents before me, raised my children in the tradition that had always been mine.
In all of these places and times, my own list of questions for God lived just below the surface. If I’m honest, for much of my life I didn’t sense permission to ask. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist in this world? Why don’t you always answer the prayers of the righteous? For whatever reason, I did not believe I could come to God with the questions most real to me—even the ones that kept me up at night and ate away at my soul.
I did not believe I could come to God with the questions most real to me—even the ones that kept me up at night and ate away at my soul.
For nearly four decades, the questions stayed pent up inside of me. Sometimes I thought about the ones psalmists posed: “Why are the nations restless, and the peoples plotting in vain?” (Psalm 2:1). “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psalm 42:9). Fifty-one questions can be found in this collection of 150 songs. Likewise, 3,294 questions can be found, cover-to-cover, in all of holy Scripture—both from people who approached God and from God Himself. Surely, their inclusion gives me permission to do the same.
But ironically, it was mystery that finally gave me peace.
I fell in love with the mystery of God in a church on a corner in Seattle, Washington. I didn’t set out to find a home in a different tradition, but I was far from a congregation of my familiar denomination. When I kept showing up in an Anglican church and they kept welcoming me in, I felt a sense of belonging. I felt comfortable. The “smells and bells” that accompanied ancient prayers prayed for thousands of years by thousands of tongues buoyed me a way I didn’t know I needed. I felt safe and sensed I had permission to let loose the doubts buried within me.
Here, I am brought back to the second half of Graham’s enigmatic answer: “Many things in Bible mysteries.” A fragment sentence, his words almost act as an aside, another musing tacked on for the sake of whimsy. I imagine him saying this to Frost with nothing less than a wink and a smile. But in that moment thousands of viewers on the other side of the screen were invited to likewise contemplate, and appreciate, mystery.
There’s no need to be afraid. Each of us has permission to ask God whatever question, big or small, might be on our mind. And the witness of countless Christians who have preceded us dares us to approach, and accept, the mystery that is before us—our life in Christ. And perhaps even to start working on our own list of questions that we’ll present to God at the pearly gates.