I once asked someone the question: ‘If Jesus was an identical twin, would his twin brother also have been the messiah? If they were, would both of them have to die for the sins of the world?’ It had been a question that had occurred to me during a Bible college class one day and I thought it might be interesting to chat through with someone. I remember the person replied ‘He wasn’t a twin, so the question is irrelevant.’ I felt a little silly after that, like perhaps I shouldn’t be asking theological hypotheticals.
Their response was correct, Jesus wasn’t a twin. But the problem was they seemed more concerned with shutting down the discussion than exploring the question. They didn’t seem to be able to handle a supposed alternate reality to the one they knew and believed in. It was disappointing, but I ended up asking other people the question and having much more interesting discussions. Despite its absurdity, in exploring the question you have to deal with the nature of the incarnation and the mechanics of the atonement – these are not lightweight or irrelevant issues.
Some of you may know that I launched a new podcast this week called Questions You’re Not Asking. It’s a series of discussions with my friend, Chris, where we kick around a bunch of absurd questions. In future weeks, the twin Jesus question might even get a look in. This week we launched with a question about the multiverse and an evil Jesus. We’re doing this as a part of a longer term project of writing a book where we try to answer the strangest Christian questions we can come up with.
We’re doing this partly because it’s fun, but also because we’re both committed to helping young people engage deeply with their faith. We’re hoping this might help. When working with teenagers, it’s not uncommon to get asked all kinds of strange questions, and there’s a lot more to be gained from entertaining them rather than shutting them down.
Why entertain the questions
When I get asked a strange question by a teenager like ‘Do you think God is just a really powerful alien?’, ‘Is there a chance Jesus ever secretly killed someone and used his power to cover it up?’ or ‘What if we’re all living in Minecraft and God is some kid whose server we’re on?’, I’m often tempted to brush the question off to avoid being distracted from the Bible study that I have so carefully created. However, I have to remember how important it is to entertain absurd questions. First, because if I brush off the concerns of this young person my message to them is that my Bible study is more important than their questions and concerns. Many of us have had times in ministry when we’ve thrown out the plan because something much more important has come up–someone’s loved one has died, the members of the group have been fighting with each other, or you realise that some of your young people have a very basic misunderstanding of the gospel. Often these impromptu discussions become the most powerful times of your ministry. But you’ll only find them if you’re open to getting distracted by the needs of your group.
The next, and related reason not to shut down absurd questions, is that we want young people asking questions. If they feel safe to ask the absurd and slightly silly questions, hopefully they’ll feel safe to also ask the taboo questions and the questions that might hint at deep doubts or tough issues. Youth ministry has to be a place for questions no matter how strange, or how wrong they might seem. Some questions will be funny, some questions will be weird, some will be painful. All of them are important.
Finally, we need to be open to the questions, because it can be vital for evangelism. Sometimes you’ll find that a question you’ve been asked feels borderline (or right over the line) offensive. For instance, if the subject of Jesus’ conception comes up with some inquiring young people one of them will definitely ask a question that will make you bristle with its irreverence. How you respond can make a big difference to how they see Christians, and by extension, Jesus. Tell them off for their rudeness or dismiss them as immature and you’ll risk alienating them and reinforcing whatever negative impressions of Christianity they might have (deserved or not). But answer the question with graciousness and generosity and you might just go a little way towards helping them see Jesus’ graciousness and generosity towards them. You might not convert anyone with a great answer, but you can certainly turn them off with a bad answer.
Why we don’t answer
Why do we shut down these questions? Sometimes I think it really is just that we’re so task oriented that we don’t want to be pushed off course. Other times, we do it out of fear; maybe fear that we don’t know how to answer the question, or fear that by entertaining the question we’re endorsing what seems like a dangerous premise. But the Bible isn’t afraid of hard questions. You only have to spend a bit of time in Job or Ecclesiastes, or even Romans, to see that the hard questions are not taboo questions. Let the Bible be your friend, see what it has to say on whatever weird subject you’re discussing, and let it take the rap if they don’t like the answers you find. It’s okay, I promise their offence won’t be anything that hasn’t been thrown at the Bible before.
Strange questions are not threats. Enjoy them, have fun with them, explore them, and let the Bible speak into them. If you’re in ministry to young people, let questions be part of your practice. And if you have your own questions, don’t be afraid to ask them. Even the silliest of questions can lead to the most excellent of places.
If you want to subscribe to Questions You’re Not Asking you can do it via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast platform. If you have a question you’d love us to discuss, just chuck it in the comments below.