Sunday, April 14, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #4: It's OK to Ask Questions!

4.  It's OK to Ask Questions!

Surely there is something that you have always wanted to know about God and his Gospel.  Odds are that the answer is in the scriptures somewhere, and it falls to you to search it out on your own.  I therefore recommend that you approach your daily scripture study with a question or two (or a whole series of questions) in mind.
"You will be taught more easily as you approach the scriptures if you search with a question and with a determination to act on the answer. We can receive what seems to us new truth when we go back to the same scripture with new questions."  (Henry B. Eyring, "Studying and Teaching the Old Testament," Ensign, Jan. 2002, 32).
The doctrines contained in the scriptures will become much more meaningful to you if you find them in answer to your own heartfelt and personal inquiry.  There is joy that can come with discovery, especially when it is accompanied by the spirit.  It is in those moments when your questions are answered that you will come to feel the most joy in your studies.
“I am convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves—and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.”  (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 62.)
Questioning versus Asking Questions

Let me add that you should always feel safe about asking questions when it comes to the gospel.  Feel free to ask God anything (as long as you approach Him with the reverence and respect which He deserves), and feel free to ask your family for help, as well as your friends, your fellow ward members, your local church leaders, the missionaries, and so on.  You should never be afraid to ask somebody for help and clarification if there is something about the gospel, the scriptures, or the church that you do not understand. Don't worry that your question might be a "stupid" one--the only stupid question is the one you didn't ask--at least when it comes to the gospel.  Don't hesitate to ask a question just because you are sure that "everyone else knows (or understands) this but me."  Just ASK, because asking questions is the only way to get answers, and therefore it is an essential component in the process of obtaining personal revelation.

Occasionally, faithful members may feel reluctant to ask too many questions for fear that others might think that they are "questioning" the teachings and leaders of the church.  There are those few who may judge you unfairly for "asking too many questions," but my advice is to ignore them.  Otherwise you might miss out on learning something really special.  You are not an apostate just because you want to learn more about a particular principle or teaching so you can live it a little better.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking honest questions out of a sincere desire to learn the truth.  After all, it was the simple, heartfelt, question of a young boy in the spring of 1820 that helped to usher in the restoration of the gospel and the church of Jesus Christ.
“It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, 23).
Moreover, you should not feel threatened if somebody asks you sincere questions, even if you don't know the answers.   It is possible to apply the principles of critical thinking to the gospel and the church without also being a critic of said church and said gospel.  There is nothing wrong with asking sincere questions, and there is no reason to discourage honest questions made in the spirit of earnest inquiry.

On the other hand, there are those who constantly question everything that comes from the church, its leaders, and the scriptures.  These are the people whom Paul described as "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

When it comes to the gospel there is an important difference between asking questions, and questioning.  The difference basically comes down to intent.  A person who asks honest questions approaches their questions with a sincere desire to be taught and with real intent to act upon the truth once they find it.  They are prepared to change their mind (and even their lives) once they obtain the truth, and they are more interested in what is right than they are in who is right.  These people are largely motivated by a spirit of humility, which makes them teachable and "easy to be entreated" (see Alma 7:23), which is why I like to call them "humble seekers of truth."

A person who questions the gospel or the church (as opposed to asking sincere questions) tends to be more interested in questions than they are in answers. Often their intent may be to criticize, discredit, or embarrass someone else; be it church leaders, the scriptures (or even God), or even just another student in Sunday school. Sometimes people who elect to question instead of asking questions are just trying to make themselves look or feel smart.  Many seek to justify their own personal choices or mistakes by calling into question the validity or the veracity of the scriptures, the prophets (living or dead), or the church.  In most cases those who choose to question instead of asking sincere questions are more interested in who is right than they are in what is right.  These people are mostly driven to satisfy their own pride and thus they aren't interested in listening to or being taught by others, and they certainly aren't interested in changing their mind or their lives, no matter what the truth may be.

Asking honest questions will eventually lead you to the truth, but questioning will generally lead you away from the truth and into error.  That is why the apostle Paul also warned of the dangers of "doubtful disputations," and counseled the disciples to "avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain" (see Romans 14:1 & Titus 3:9).

The Great Questions of the Soul

I also wish to add that studying the scriptures shouldn't be approached as just another intellectual exercise or simply to satisfy an idle interest.  The scriptures can provide real guidance and comfort, as well as answers to "the great questions of the soul" in times of great crisis or sorrow, or when considering weighty decisions, which is exactly when you need those answers and that guidance the most (see Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 5).
"Going to the scriptures to learn what to do makes all the difference. The Lord can teach us. When we come to a crisis in our life, such as losing a child or spouse, we should go looking in the scriptures for specific help. We will find answers in the scriptures. The Lord seemed to anticipate all of our problems and all of our needs, and He put help in the scriptures for us—if only we seek it."  (Henry B. Eyring, in Gaunt, "A Discussion on Scripture Study,"  Ensign, July 2005).
 We'll talk more about the importance of asking good questions, and HOW to go about asking those questions in Scripture Master Tip #20:  Search, Ponder, and Pray.  To go on to the next tip in this series click here:  Scripture Master Tip #5:  Live What You Learn

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