I’ve volunteered with teenagers for over a decade, and one of my best parts is the questions they ask. I love books and music and talks that raise new questions as much as I love those that help with old ones. And I love my work with young people because it helps keeps that part of me alive, versus adults who (mostly) don’t.
We’re all born asking questions, and I was no different. Unfortunately, I found out early, like most kids do, that adults don’t particularly like questions — or children that ask too many. And the more I came to realise this, the more I’ve fought to be able to keep asking questions, and to face them as honestly as I can. Not because asking questions is necessarily fun — it can be a very uncomfortable exercise — but it keeps me, I believe, truly alive.
And I get the discomfort, especially as we grow. To be an adult is to have spent a bit of time alive, and to have developed, over that time, some idea of how the world works. Having that idea threatened is not at all a pleasant experience. And while we all love answers to questions we know, it’s unsettling to face questions we don’t.
But like someone once said, a smart person knows the right answers, but it takes a wise person to know the right questions. (Maybe we should judge adulthood more by not just the quality of our answers but the quality of our questions.)
Anyway, my question-asking journey was further complicated by faith — at least as I then understood it. Faith was to me a degree of trust in God that should have made questions unnecessary. To my mind, people who had faith didn’t ask questions, and those who asked questions clearly had little faith.
It took my meeting CS Lewis (via his seminal book, Mere Christianity ) to learn that my Christian faith not only had room for my questions, but actually encouraged them. It took another look at the Bible to find that the greatest believers were askers of questions, and that even Jesus himself had one of the greatest (and most familiar): “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (That was one time he didn’t call God, “Father,” as he was wont, but that’s a story for another day.)
And that’s why I don’t really like the name, “Kabiyesi,” for God.
The name comes from a Yoruba title for a chieftain, and can be translated, “He who cannot be questioned.” I think it’s a misleading name. Because although there is in the Bible, references to the fact that God is “unquestionable,” I believe these references are intended to mean that he is not bound to answer questions, not that he should not be asked.
And those are two completely different ideas.
If we used the name, “Kabiyesi,” to mean this, I might be more comfortable with it. But the way we think of God suggests otherwise. For instance, we tell people who are bereaved or suffering some other tragedy, “Who can question God?” We’re implying he cannot be asked.
But the father of faith, Abraham, had big questions. The book of Job is one mighty question. The prayers in the Psalms are littered with questions. The prophets pop with questions. Jesus himself had questions for God. History is filled with believers with questions.
Who says we can’t question God?
We can. And contrary to what I imagined as a child, having questions for God turned out to place me in some really good company.
PS. If you liked this post, please recommend it. Also feel free to share it with other people you think might find it interesting or helpful—or just to look for trouble. 🙂
Originally published on Medium as Why I’m uncomfortable with “Kabiyesi” as a name for God