Silly Questions of Faith: The Fault in Our Stars and Life According to Trey Part 3
There's a scene in The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel Grace is confronted by Van Houten, her once-beloved author now exposed drunk cynic. Hazel Grace ventured with Gus to Amsterdam in pursuit of what she perceived to be an unfinished novel with too many questions left unanswered. As they storm out of Van Houten's disheveled apartment, enraged and disappointed by their "hero's" crass and less-than-hospitable behavior, the author leaves them with a parting retort:
"Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you care so much about the answers to your silly questions?"
Silly questions? These questions had become the very rhythm of her cancer-laden life and now they were being labeled "silly."
I wonder if this is how many youth feel when their young minds rattle off question after question in a world not yet done with claims of certainty. I fear youth may balk at asking questions, faith, life, death, and despair questions, assuming they will be received by the adults in their life as silly.
So they write off church as Hazel Grace wrote off the one who wrote her most cherished story.
So as I prepared to write a youth talk for this past Sunday, I returned to a short story I wrote for youth this past May. Youth resonated with the brief narrative, who had quote a few silly questions of his own, so I added the chapter below.
I pray youth, who may be a lot like Hazel Grace, would always know even their silliest questions are welcome in the church. Actually, these questions are not silly at all. They are markers of faith.
Trey, Cora, and Questions of Faith: Life According to Trey Part 3
entering his second year of high school.
His first year was not so bad, although he could've done without the
absurd amounts of homework his history teacher, Mr. Franklin, had handed out
the second semester.
didn't seem to agree.
Trey didn't push himself hard enough, apply himself often enough, and
frequently told him he needed to spend more time in the books if he wanted to
get into a good school.
15," he would remind his parents. "Fifteen!"
of Trey's freshman year were unexpected and overwhelming. They only increased his sophomore year.
Academics. Clubs. Piano Lessons (Trey hated the piano). Choir.
church. There was also church and the Second Presbyterian youth group. Trey
struggled to fit that in and often had to surrender youth group and time with
his friends because of an endless list of other responsibilities that demanded
his time and attention.
youth pastor, Hope, often reminded him that church and youth group were not to
be one other pressure point. Actually, they were the very people Trey could
count on to be there when the pressures were too much. They wouldn’t shun him if he missed a few
always a breath of fresh air, but still, Trey felt bad he couldn't be as involved
as he was over the summer.
And Trey had
quite the summer, nothing that surpassed his week-long mission trip with the
youth group to Baltimore.
That was an experience he would never forget.
How could he?
The questions were still wracking his brain.
And so was
Cora. Trey and Cora had struck up quite
the friendship. Cora was also a high
school sophomore and was the type of person Trey found intriguing. She was somewhat mysterious and didn't act as
though she had everything figured out.
She wasn't a glass half-empty kind of girl, but certainly didn't think
the glass was always full either.
like Trey, was a bit of a skeptic and struggled to find her place in the youth
group. That was, until she met Hope,
their youth pastor. Hope and Cora had
similar conversations as those Hope had with Trey. Hope also encouraged her to come along on the
summer mission trip.
Cora and Trey met. More specifically,
the two met serving meals at an inner city ministry on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. They spent a few afternoons in conversations
with those who had called the streets their homes, most without a job. These new friends, as Trey liked to call
them, broke all kinds of stereotypes about the homeless.
were recovering addicts and others constantly looking for another way to
collect disability checks. Some with
more legit explanations than others, of course.
were also former college professors in their fifties and sixties who had been
let go and unable to find another gig.
There were parents of young kids who ended up on the streets after
unexpected medical bills piled up because their employer didn't provide
sufficient health insurance, leaving them bankrupt. There were veterans who had so many traumatic
memories that they couldn't hold a job since returning from the horrors of war,
some pains inflicted by fellow soldiers who used their rank as a means to
assure secrets could be kept far too long. There were even those who had a job,
but the cost of rent was too high that not even minimum wage could help them
get off the street. Let's not forget the teenagers who were homeless. The stories were unbearable. Youth shared about being kicked out of their
homes when their mom’s new boyfriend moved in or fleeing
their homes because they couldn't take the violence and abuse any longer.
of Trey's new friends were endless. The
summer mission trip challenged and confronted Trey more than anything ever
thrown his way by Mr. Franklin. The same
was true for Cora, which is why they became such good friends and were able to
have conversations like the one on the bus on the way home from a day of
serving one afternoon.
thought this mission trip was going to teach me a lot about faith, God, and
Christianity. Instead, I feel like
everywhere I turn I am just faced with another story of despair," Cora
said on the bus back to the retreat center where they were staying.
not alone," Trey agreed. "I was hoping this summer would be an opportunity
for me to deepen my faith, maybe even find the answers to the many questions I
have had for so long. But all I have
come up with are..."
questions?!" Cora interjected.
More questions." Trey was grateful
for Cora. While many in the youth group
seemed more concerned about taking photos and posting to Instagram, Cora was
really wrestling with each experience.
pondered, "Yea, where is God when a kids home life is so bad that it would
be safer to live on the streets of Baltimore than spend one more night in the
midst of so much yelling, screaming, and violence?"
about when someone is diagnosed with a form of cancer but can't pay the
mounting medical bills?" Trey wondered.
then they go bankrupt, leaving them homeless when they recover." Cora
this also makes me think about stuff at our school. Like my friend,
Chris," Trey began to whisper as though really uncomfortable, "who
recently came out as gay to his family. Where is God in the midst of
get me going on that one," Cora replied back in certainly more than a
They went on
and on, listing everything from Christians who have been killed for their faith
in the Middle East to natural disasters. They even talked about the ridiculous
pressures they face with homework and after school obligations.
seem to forget we are kids not CEOs!” Cora gritted her teeth.
thinking of his parents’ reaction to any and all of his
complaints about school work.
of kids!” Trey knew Cora was
on a roll now, so he just listened. “Child
refugees! They are fleeing Honduras
without their parents, hoping to find safety in this country because the drug
and gang wars have become too much for their parents to bear. They think it's safer for their young
children, even toddlers, to ride a freight train from Central America through Mexico and into Texas, ALONE, versus stay home with their
parents. Where is God there? I thought the kingdom of God,
like Jesus said, belonged to children?"
in, "Hope has said something before about Jesus being 'good news for the
world.' Apparently gospel means good news.
All I see around us lately is bad news.
Is there any good news
they realized Hope was on the same bus with them. Apparently she heard them chatting but didn't
want to interrupt. But this last remark
by Trey, she couldn't help but jump in on the conversation.
it," Hope whispered.
they turned to see Hope with a bit of a grin.
what?" Trey asked.
the point of all this mess we call Christianity. That's the point of this trip to
Baltimore. That's the point of following
Jesus," Hope shared.
have to be a little more specific, Hope." Cora was obviously frustrated.
means good news,” Hope said. “Because
we are to be those who ask the question, 'what could, would, and should good
news look like in all those places and experiences you just mentioned. What does good news look like to gay youth or
homeless cancer survivors? What does
good news look like to Christians in Iraq, whose lives are in jeopardy every
day? What does good news look like to
families who have lost everything to a tornado, tsunami, hurricane, or fire?
What does good news look like to the thousands of children fleeing Honduras and
taking refuge in this country? What does good news mean for youth, like you,
who are reduced to test scores and grade point averages in our achievement
Trey and Cora
were both perplexed, but intrigued nonetheless. The last one especially got a
few nods from Cora and Trey.
know, Hope. Why don't you tell us? You seem to always have answers. I
just have more questions," Trey lamented.
Hope's voice softened. "Christianity is not about answers. Christianity is
about questions. Asking good and faithful questions. I have way more of them than you could even
begin to imagine. I have doubts, too.
Lots of doubts, especially because of all the bad news we hear, see, and
in, "I thought Christianity was about right belief? You know, getting the
replied Hope. “If you think you have all the answers
you are not a Christian."
not?" Cora asked.
said Hope. “You're arrogant. A good follower of Jesus, a disciple, is
someone who asks the right questions.
Good news questions. Questions of
despair and heart ache. Questions that
center on the longing for the world to be better, newer, safer, cleaner, more
equal, just, fair, and drenched in peace.
Questions that ask, where is Jesus in this place and who is Jesus
calling me to be alongside my neighbors near and far? Questions about evil,
sin, suffering, forgiveness, life, and death, even life after death."
for a moment, "Is that why Jesus' disciples asked so many questions? Were
they actually more faithful than we give them credit for?"
Hope let out a breath as though refreshed by Trey's youthful moment of enlightenment, "Yes. Sure, they were cynics and critics, missing the mark more frequently than they
got it, but they were full of faith.
Their questions were a strong mark of faith. And Jesus asked questions, too. Like what does good news mean for the man
possessed with a demon and isolated by family, friends, and anyone within arm’s
reach? Good news meant being greeted
with an embrace and healed of the possession.
What did good news mean for the woman who had been bleeding for 12
years? It meant she finally could be made clean and able to participate in her
religious community and welcomed at the family dinner table. What was good news for the 5000-plus men,
women, and children who gathered hillside when Jesus was teaching? Good news
meant being fed until they were satisfied. Good news meant all those who were
labeled sinners and outcasts were forgiven and invited to the table. Jesus even responded to the greatest question
of all: what about death? The good news for all of us is that death does not win
in the end, but, through Jesus, resurrected life is gifted to all.”
to get it. "So we are supposed to ask not avoid questions? Like, what does good news mean to my neighbor
whose parents just split up and is not sure what life will look like in the
days and weeks ahead?" Trey immediately began to think of his friend, Sam,
who didn’t talk much about his parent’s recent decision to split up. But he
knew it was always on his mind.
My favorite line of Scripture comes right after Jesus healed a paralytic and is
confronted by critics. He said, ‘My
Father is still working, and I also am working.’
While others found every reason to avoid the bad news of suffering, even
using religion as an excuse, Jesus questioned human suffering and then entered
into it. Jesus knew that even in the
darkest of human experiences, God was, no, God is somehow, someway still working.
God is there.”
for a moment, “Sorry to be a bit blunt, but what does
that have to do with us, with what we do? Sure, we trust God is working-
although I often question that- but even if God is, what does that have to do
in agreement, “I hear you. I also frequently question God’s
presence. But I keep working, hoping,
praying, and believing good news is out there somewhere. So, as those who
follow Jesus, when we see others suffering and in the depths of the worst kind
of news, we are called to hear their questions, ask versus avoid many of our
own questions, and then consider how can we begin to work towards good news
much in the same way Jesus did. So, what
might that look like for your friends you met this week or your friends, Sam
and Chris, back home?"
Cora looked at Trey, hoping maybe he would have a response. They both shrugged.
sure. All I have right now are a lot of
questions, and we still have two more days on this trip.'" Trey said this,
wondering if he was going to frustrate his youth pastor.
Trey has six questions. I have ten." Cora said, as though she wanted to
back up her friend.
again. "That's why I love
teenagers. That's why I will never stop serving alongside teenagers."
two friends were confused.
you ask the best questions. You're not
afraid of questions. You challenge adults who all-too-often think they have all
the answers and life figured out. In
those moments, you push us. I think
that's maybe why Jesus said we needed to have faith like a child. Not because of blind obedience, but because
kids are always asking questions. And by asking questions, good news questions
in the midst of so much bad news, only then do we begin to see the face of
Christ. Only then do we actually demonstrate child-like faith."
"I have one more question, Hope."
smiled Hope. “Our stop was the last one. Whoops."