A Follow up: Examples of Questions from the Heart from a current Adult Education Class

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In an earlier post I mentioned an Adult Education possibility:

Another idea of which I am fond is called “Questions from the Heart.” You have an Adult Sunday school class explicitly devoted to questions people are wrestling with in their faith. When the class begins you ask people to come prepared with written questions – which they in their hearts really need answered – which the leader then reads aloud. After that first introductory class, the questions are then printed and numbered. The subsequent classes consist of taking numbered questions, several at a time, and preparing for them over the next week together. This is the kind of an environment which someone wrestling with faith sometimes finds inviting.

As it so happens, I am teaching just such a class in the parish in which I am now serving, and I thought you would be interested to see the questions which were submitted:

1. Over the past years I have lost a number of animals. This has been very difficult for me. Is it possible that animals have a soul and that there is a place beyond the grave for them? Will I ever see them again?

2. Does God change his mind? In other words, how effective are my prayers if God already has his eternal plan and has his mind made up?

3 I have a deep desire to be filled by the Holy Spirit and to live a life of "intimacy" with God. Is it right for me to desire a filling experience that engages the senses as well as the mind? (a vision, experience, etc.)

4. Does our church teach that infant baptism saves or in some way guarantees the future salvation of that infant? Do we believe in baptismal regeneration? In other words, if I have received the sacrament of baptism and confirmation does this assure some measure of salvific grace? I have been told that by some Episcopalians.

5. I struggle with the issue of innocents suffering. We are told that God's plans are always wise and always perfect, so why is there so much suffering? What's the difference between justice and punishment? Why the feeding of the 5,000 by Christ and the wandering Israelites being sent quail only to be stricken with a plague and killed? Why the stricken tribes in Numbers 16 and total grace for Christ's persecutors?

6. I also struggle with forgiveness. Before coming to the altar to receive I find myself asking for forgiveness for not being able to forgive someone. (I don't ever expect this person to ask for forgiveness) I think sometimes I have forgiven and feel wonderful about receiving communion, then something happens to remind me about the wrong and I have to start the process of forgiveness over again. Which is worse...receiving without forgiving, forgiving and taking back or not receiving at all (which I have had do at times)? I do realize there is a difference between forgiving and forgetting (I don't think I'll ever be there!!)

7. In the presidential primaries, with Mitt Romney running, a lot of attention was paid to his Mormon faith, but I found a number of the articles confusing. Is Mormonism Christian or not? Some articles said yes, but others said no. I need to have this clarified.

8. How can a loving God send someone—especially someone who is precious to me—to hell?

9. I have a personal issue in my family, in that one parent has treated the other parent and the children very badly. This would be an issue in either case, but in our situation it is the father. It has created a crisis of faith especially for the children—how do I help them deal with this?

10. What significance does the color blue have when you pray? Sometimes
when I'm praying I see the most brilliant beautiful color of blue and I'm not sure what it means.

11. How do you recognize God's answer to prayer?

12. One of the biblical concepts I struggle with the most is the idea of election, that people become God’s people only because God chooses them and enables them to come to faith in him. Does this not mean that God chooses some and not others? How do I reconcile this with God’s goodness and love?

13.besetting sin-- How do you truly pray for God to heal you of a besetting sin, that you know in your heart is wrong, and for the most part you can live in victory over this sin, But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (II Peter 2:22)
As the passage states you return to the sin ??? I have grown weary in the battle of this debt and the failure of company's bankruptcy only reminds me daily of the besetting sin in my life. I want to believe that the LORD one day will take all the failures of my life and use them for HIS good. But some days more now than before when I go to work I feel my self drifting into this state on mind that I would welcome the loss of every thing and just live a simple and uneventful life as [the rector] mentioned in his sermon today. Knowing very well the hurt and pain I would cause [my wife], my family and the dedicated employees that have been through the muck and the mire with me. one of our foreman told [my wife] last week that he will be with us as long as we continue.
So how do I release the slothfulness in my heart when I know it is wrong, but yet I really don't give it up to the LORD, I just wallow in it and pretend I am working hard, when I am really letting many people down and not really caring of the hurt that I may be causing ???

14. Discerning God's Will:
The words come easy, in the prayer for God to show me his Will, but the deep heart searching true discernment is not always truly there. I think sometimes I have a revelation that this is really what God is calling me to do then the reality of the commitment comes to the surface and I sink back into the routine of the day to day existence. So how do you know when it truly God's Will and not my own???

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Posted September 28, 2008 at 9:52 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. vulcanhammer wrote:

On Item #4, I had an interesting exchange with on Orthodox priest on this very subject, which you can read by starting here (also here).

September 28, 10:23 am | [comment link]
2. Timothy Fountain wrote:

Awesome.  While we might actually preach on some of these (without being asked), so many of the questions show how much we miss when it comes to feeding our people from God’s Word. 
So many studies have shown that clergy and laity focus on different priorities.  This can (uh…) lead to church dysfunction.  A class like the one Kendall describes is a way to overcome the lay/clergy divergence.
This is a really uplifting and worthwhile post.

September 28, 11:23 am | [comment link]
3. Terry Tee wrote:

I felt convicted of sin when reading this list.  As Timothy Fountain says, clergy can preach away from the real concerns of people in the pews.  On the occasions when I have tackled a meaty problem arising from the scriptures in one of my homilies it has nearly always produced an expression of thanks from some members of the congregation.  Perhaps we clergy need to be more bold, and more prepared to admit that sometimes we have only partial answers.

September 28, 2:16 pm | [comment link]
4. Chris wrote:

I really struggle with #11 & 14, it brings me some modicum of comfort that others do as well.

September 29, 9:03 am | [comment link]
5. archangelica wrote:

What wonderful questions! My heart asks many of the same. Please consider posting your responses. This would make an excellent booklet in the end for catachesis. I’d buy it and give it to others! God bless you and many many graces pour down on you and your students as you teach this class. Come Holy Spirt and enkindle in our heart’s the fire of your love!

Br. Christopher Nicholas
Anamchara Fellowship

September 29, 10:01 am | [comment link]
6. Boring Bloke wrote:

Lots of good questions; and I’m not sure that I can answer all of them.

#12 is the one I struggle with, and the chief reason that I’m not a Calvinist (for whom I think that this is the biggest problem).

This is what I would say to the easiest few:

#2 There are examples in scripture where God `changes his mind’ in response to petition, for example Exodus 32:9-14 comes to mind. However, these should just be thought of as figures of speech. God is outside of time, therefore sees everything as one instant; both the action and your prayer. So although God makes his plans from the `foundation of the world’ those plans include His response to your prayer. You should most definitely pray.

#3 Yes. Ephesians 1:17-19. As long as you do not get upset if God doesn’t answer your prayer in the manner you want: you might lust for the gift of tongues, for example, but not everyone is given it; and you may be given something else (which would probably be more needful for your church).

#4 Mark 16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Baptism is necessary but not sufficient. There is baptismal regeneration, but it also depends on your belief. Once you have baptism in water, baptism in the spirit, and a true, saving and working faith, it will automatically lead to justification, sanctification, and good works, etc..

#5 and #8: God is a loving God but also a just God, and also a rational God. It is difficult for us to conceive quite how bad sin is; and quite how much worse it is than the temporal suffering we experience. Suffering is consistent with God’s love; because love means to seek for the object to become better. Suffering is there to remind us of the far more serious issue of sin. There is an argument which states that God allows us to suffer so that (those who choose it) may, in the end, become something far better: free from sin.

Also there cannot be a world without suffering while there is separation from God; and there cannot be union with God while there is still sin. That which is evil cannot stand in the presence of God (Psalm 5:4-5): if it tried it would be destroyed, as the Israelites could not bear to look on Moses face when he came down from the mountain. Therefore (OK, not therefore because I have only sketched the argument, but never mind) suffering is not something that can be avoided without a logical contradiction.

Furthermore,  we are all evil by nature (Romans 3). We all deserve to suffer (Luke 13:1-5). Pride gives us the illusion that we have from birth some standing before God; that we have some inalienable right to have good things happen to us. We don’t. The question should not be `Why do some suffer?’ Or `Why do some go to hell?’ but `Why are some spared suffering?’ and `Why are we given this opportunity to be spared Hell?’  And the answer to that is God’s grace.

#7 No its not.

October 1, 8:41 am | [comment link]
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